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Software… Firmware… Hardware…


… three things that sound dirty but aren’t?  No.  Well, yes… but more importantly, they’re computer terms that you may have heard, but may not be 100% clear on the meanings of.  So let’s start with the easier two of the three…

SOFTWARE:  Programs.  Windows, Office, World of Warcraft.  Anything that you install on your computer and run is software, so called because there’s really nothing to it but code.  Nothing really exists of software in the real world, it’s all just bits and bytes on your hard drive, and yet it allows us to do such wonderful things!  Forget Harry Potter, this is the real magic for me.


HARDWARE:  Motherboard, hard drive, CD drive, monitor.  Anything that exists in the real world that is part of your computer or something that you add on to the computer is hardware.  Hardware is literally what makes your machine run, because without it there would be nothing for the software to run on.

FIRMWARE:  Firmware is the programming that makes your hardware go.  A more common term for firmware is “drivers”, because these are the things that “drive” your hardware.  So when you hear about a camera or something requiring a “firmware update”, that’s what this means… there’s a modification of the program that runs your camera that will make it run better or fix some glitch with the previous version of the programming.

Now here are a couple of “wares” that you may have heard but aren’t clear on at no extra charge.  Completely for free.

ADWARE:  Installs something on your computer that allows you to be bombarded with advertising, such as pop-ups every time that you open a browser window.

MALWARE:  Viruses, trojan horses, adware.  Anything that will harm you or your computer.

USERWARE:  Macros, add-ons, bots, etc., usually designed by users to enhance your experience of the software.  These range from things like user-created templates that you can download for Microsoft Office to additional quests and bonus/enhanced gear for games.

Randal Schaffer

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3 Responses to “Software… Firmware… Hardware…”

  1. Bill Leach says:

    Randal, nice summary but I tend to disagree with your ‘definition’ of FIRMWARE (you said it was the hardest of the three).

    FIRMWARE is computer code as you say and indeed some device drivers are contained in firmware.

    The term “firmware” came into existance to differentiate between software that could be loaded or altered easily and software that was contained in ROM (read-only memory).

    Software in the first and second generation ROM could not be altered after the code was “written” to the ROM. Thus it was like software (ie: computer code or instructions) but unlike software a physical component would have to be changed to change the firmware.

  2. Mark says:

    I agree with Bill Leach, a much better and more accurate definition of firmware. In addition the firmware on your camera is not a driver. A driver is firmware or software that knows how to talk to a peripheral device. Since a camera is not peripheral to itself the firmware on it is not a driver.

  3. Brandon says:

    Nice description Bill and Mark. I was going to say the exact same things as the two of you. I am very happy I am not the only one that noticed.

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