An application is a type of software program meant to help a computer user accomplish a task. Some applications come bundled with a computer's operating system, while others are available for download from websites and through App Stores. The full word "application" is typically used for software on desktop and laptop computers; smartphones, tablets, and other non-computer platforms often use the shortened form "app."

Applications differ from other software categories like system software, utilities, and malware. Applications are specifically user-facing programs that run in the foreground and help you accomplish what you want to do. For example, if you wanted to create a presentation, you could do so in a presentation-making application like PowerPoint or Keynote. On the other hand, system software and utilities typically work in the background without user input, performing automated system tasks like establishing network connections or responding to incoming SSH requests. Likewise, a virus that silently searches your disks for sensitive data to send to a remote server is not an application but instead an example of a malware program.

A selection of applications viewed in the macOS Launchpad
A selection of applications viewed in the macOS Launchpad

Many categories of applications are available to help you with nearly any task. A few of the most common types include:

  • Word processors that let users write documents, including formatting and page layout features.
  • Image editors that can open and edit bitmap and vector images.
  • Web browsers for browsing the internet and viewing webpages.
  • Communication applications for email, text chat, audio/video conferencing, and screen sharing.
  • Media players that can play audio and video files.
  • Video games in countless genres, including puzzle games, action shooters, simulations, and roleplaying adventures.

Some applications may come bundled as part of an application suite. Applications in a suite can work together as part of a larger workflow. For example, the Microsoft Office application suite includes separate applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, email, and several other tasks. Adobe Creative Suite, meanwhile, bundles a set of applications for editing raster graphics, vector illustrations, animations, audio, and video.

Updated June 15, 2023 by Brian P.

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