What is System Software?

Last Updated on July 18, 2020 by The Soft Best

Know What is System Software: The system software is one of the major classifications that we can give to the software that runs on a device and its counterpart application software.

This is the software that basically allows a device to work the way it does. In fact, without it, a computer could not work.

  • What is considered system software?
  • What types are there, and what is each one for? 
  • How is it different from the rest of the software? 

What is System Software

Today we are going to answer all those questions and more, and we are going to tell you everything you need to know about what system software is, its different classifications, characteristics, and more. Keep reading.

What is System Software?

System software or base software, whatever you prefer to call it, both terms refer to the same thing: it is the software that allows our devices to work. Without the system software, it would not be possible to use a mobile phone, a computer, or a tablet.

In fact, computing as we know it would not exist, and the world of technology would be an extremely different place. The system software is, in simple terms, the one that allows us to interact with a device through its hardware.

This base software is mainly made up of the operating system and the drivers, and to a lesser extent, we can also include the libraries in this category.

Other types of software that can also be classified as system software are bootloaders, command-line interfaces, graphical interfaces, and BIOS.

Types of System Software

As we already mentioned, there are different types of system software:

  • Operating system: The operating system is the main set of software for a device and defines many aspects of what can and cannot be done with that device. It allows us to create a link between the drivers and the hardware and gives us the possibility of using a computer or a mobile phone. The most popular operating system in the world is Microsoft’s Windows at the computer level, while on mobile, it is Google’s Android. Of course, there are many others like Linux, macOS, iOS, Unix, etc.
  • Drivers or Drivers: Drivers, which we call drivers, are what allows our operating system to identify hardware correctly and use it on it. Sometimes when we connect a new mouse, printer, or other peripheral to a computer, a new driver may automatically be installed so that the peripheral can be used. Sometimes the driver installation must be done manually with a CD or downloading an installation file from the Internet, for example.
  • Libraries: Libraries (also known as libraries) are basically a set of functions that allow the operating system to interpret code so that we can open or view different types of files. Unlike ordinary programs, libraries do not need to be started, and it is a set of instructions that is always available to be used while it is installed. Libraries can be used by different programs to correctly interpret the code of a file and thus be able to open it.
  • Boot Loader: A boot loader allows us to define which operating system we want to start on a computer or device, in case there is more than one installed. It is known as a bootloader because it is used when turning on a device, and its utility lies in allowing us to choose which operating system we are going to use. It is worth mentioning that in the event that there is only one operating system, we will not be able to interact with the boot loader. However, that does not mean that it is not present; the only available OS is simply automatically selected.
  • Graphical interface: the graphical interface, on the other hand, is a complement to the operating system and may or may not be present. Its utility lies in being able to interact more simply and visibly with our device. It is ideal for those who are not used to working through a command line.
  • Command-line interface: Also known as CLI in English, command-line interfaces are a way for the user to interact with a device. It is a console through which the user can execute different commands to achieve all kinds of tasks. Instructions of all kinds can be executed, to the point that there are those who prefer this kind of interface over graphic ones.
  • BIOS: The BIOS is another key piece of software for the operation of a device, it is the one that gives the initial spark and determines whether to launch an operating system or a boot manager directly. It is software that is already integrated into the device; that is, it is foreign to the operating system, drivers, and libraries.

Differences between System Software and Application Software

To know the differences between one and the other, it is important that we first know what each one is. We’ve already explained what system software is, so now it’s up to application software.

Application software is software that is intended to be used by the user to carry out a task. It is what we popularly know as programs or applications, and there are millions of different examples (such as design programs, or why not, accounting software)

What makes application software different from system software? 

Let’s see their main differences.

  • Importance: system software is essential for the correct operation of a device, while application software is not; that is, it is optional, and a device can work without it.
  • Uses: the base software is used for the purpose of properly functioning a device, while the application software is used to carry out all kinds of tasks and jobs, as well as to reproduce multimedia content, among other activities.
  • Uptime: the system software is always running, that is, from when the device is turned on until it turns off, while the application software is only working when the user decides.
  • Costs: Most of the system software is free, except for example, for products such as Microsoft Windows that must pay a license to use it legally. In the case of application software, the picture is more complex, since there are free applications, paid applications, and even paid software with free trial periods.
  • Interaction: The system software is always running in the background, which means that the software very rarely has to interact with it, except in the case of certain graphic or command interfaces, for example. On the contrary, the application software is always executed and used by the user, that is to say, yes or yes, an interaction on their part is required.
  • Independence: While system software may run on its own, programs and applications do or do not require one or more types of system software to function, then it could be said that system software is independent of application software, while that the latter is dependent on the system. It is worth mentioning that even so the base software needs the hardware to be able to be executed, it has no utility without the latter.

Can system software be free software?

First of all, we must make it clear that free software does not mean free software, but actually software that has a source code that can be viewed and modified freely, that is, anyone can do it if they want to.

Although free software often turns out to be free software, that rule does not always apply, and at the base software level, this also happens. Perhaps the best example of this is the drivers, which are free but not necessarily free software.

It can be said that the system software can be free, but that depends entirely on whether your code is available to be freely modified or not. This is obviously a decision that falls into the hands of the companies or groups of people who are responsible for carrying out its development.

There is a lot of system software that is free, as, in the case of some operating systems of the Linux project or other derivatives of Unix such as FreeBSD, some boot managers and libraries are also within the category, while others such as BIOS and drivers or Drivers cannot be considered as free.

Summarizing this question, there is free base software and also non-free software, in the same way, that there is free and paid software (sometimes known and mentioned as commercial software), or even free and at the same time free, as well as also free but not free.

10 Examples of System Software

  • Fedora Linux: It is an operating system derived from Linux. It is characterized by being stable and secure. It also has a large number of developers behind it, which gives the launch of two major versions each year, which usually integrate new functions and features. Fedora is among the most used Linux distros in the world, although its lack of integration with some programs and applications is perhaps what most works against it.
  • Ubuntu Linux – This is another popular example of system software that is based on Linux. It is stable and secure and compatible with many packages and applications, much more than others like Fedora. Like Fedora, it receives two major updates a year, always one in April and the other in October. It is an environment that is also highly favored at the webserver level.
  • Microsoft Windows: The world’s most popular operating system, developed by Microsoft. Although its popularity began to grow non-stop in the ’90s, its first version dates from 1985. Windows is an environment with many points in favor but also against it; perhaps the biggest problem is a large amount of malware that threatens it. Still, many companies, institutions, and users around the world are betting on it.
  • Android: it is the most popular and used operating system in the world when it comes to mobile phones, with Apple’s iOS being its main competitor. Android is a free operating system and has the largest application store on the market, also having the backing of Google, one of today’s technology giants.
  • DriversDrivers do not usually have associated names, but are actually represented by the brand that provides them, such as, for example, Nvidia or AMD in the case of graphics cards, Biostar or ASUS if one talks about motherboards, HP and Brother for printers, among many others.
  • Boot loaders: all operating systems incorporate one, and they do not necessarily have a name, although there are some that do, such as Grub, which usually comes embedded in Linux and derived environments.
  • Glibc: It is an extremely popular open-source library in Linux environments, to the point that the vast majority of programs that run on these operating systems depend on it. It is a library that includes many basic functions and is responsible for making system calls.
  • GNOME: It is a very popular graphical interface that is available for many of the Linux distros. It is characterized by being simple and easy to use, although new users may not consider it as intuitive. Its version 3.0 received great controversy because it moved away from the traditional desktop of previous versions.
  • Bash: It is both a programming language and a command-line interface, quite popular in Linux and Unix environments. It is usually used with a technical approach, generally to carry out different types of tasks on a system or a file structure.
  • macOS: is the operating system for computers created by Apple, which is used by its line of Mac computers, both in desktop and laptop versions. It has many integrations with its mobile operating system, iOS, as well as iTunes, iCloud, among others. Its latest version is 10.14, called macOS Mojave.


As we could see, the system software is the key piece so that any computer system can work together with the hardware.

In other words, the system software is what allows hardware to function and for us to use as end-users. Both hardware and software are needed. Without one, the other is practically unusable.

Thanks to the system software, the user is able to manipulate the operating system, use its utilities, install drivers, compilers, and tools of the operating system itself.