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The Two Types of Application Software: General Purpose Applications and Custom Software

Updated on September 7, 2019
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Alfred is a long-time teacher and computer enthusiast who works with and troubleshoots a wide range of computing devices.

General purpose applications and custom software are the two major types of application software. General purpose applications, which are sometimes referred to as 'off the shelf' aplications are designed as feature-full packages while custom software is tailor-made for a client's specific needs.

Google apps for Chrome browser fall under the general purpose type of application software
Google apps for Chrome browser fall under the general purpose type of application software

Applications or just apps, are end-user software which contain basic to advanced sets of digital tools, designed for productivity tasks such as arithmetic summation and text editing. They are at the end of the software queue because they enable users to accomplish complex to simple productivity tasks.

Most application software are designed to run on three popular platforms: desktops, mobiles, and browsers.

Applications for Desktops and Mobiles

Up until recently, application software types were meant to be used on the computer desktops. With the extensive adoption of mobile devices and the internet, however, software for mobile and other digital contraptions have also become mainstream.

The trend for developers is thus to create two to three or more versions of applications to install on the desktop, mobile, web platforms, and embedded systems.

Applications on desktops usually have plenty of room and features, while apps for mobiles are trimmed down versions. Browser optimization in mobiles requires that just a minimal of features load, in order not to eat away on resources and battery life.

Except for power users and core professionals, who still need the muscle of traditional computers, smartphones and tablets have become the tools of choice for the majority.

Applications for Web Browsers

Web apps are installed and/or run on web browsers. They are capable of accomplishing tasks that were previously only possible inside native operating systems. Google docs, Word Online, Zoho wiki, Evernote and email clients are popular examples of web apps.

Implementation of web apps is just one of the Web 2.0 features, a kind of second generation of web computing which is all about collaboration, interactivity, and sharing of information between users around the world. The concept has taken off largely due to mass adoption of mobile devices and cloud storage.

Below are popular Web 2.0 platforms and apps:

  • Social media communication e.g. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
  • Blogs e.g. Blogger, Wordpress and Techcrunch.
  • Wikis e.g. Wikimedia, Wikipedia and TermWiki.
  • Social media curation e.g. Pinterest, Digg and Reddit.
  • Cloud storage e.g. Google Drive, Dropbox and SugarSync.

A plus for web apps is that they are largely free, or cheaper than their native counterparts, but may turn out more expensive in the long run because of app and internet subscriptions.

Apart from Chrome Web Store, other sources of apps are Wiki App Market, Microsoft Store and Clover App Market.

The two types of application software:

  • General Purpose Applications
  • Custom/Bespoke Software

General Purpose Applications

These are off-the-shelf software types which accomplish broad range of tasks as opposed to custom software which accomplish tasks specific to user requirements. General purpose applications are available in standalone modes or are bundled together to make up application suites.

Application suites such as MS Office, Apache OpenOffice, iWork, Google Docs, WPS Office, CorelDRAW Graphics Suite and Adobe Creative Suite are bundles of applications with different functionality. They complement each other to make complete productive packages for the office, school and home.

A typical suite includes at least a word processor, presentation, database and graphics applications. Corel and Adobe suites, however, favor graphics, and video editing applications, for the latter.

1. Word Processors

These are types of application software with basic tools to create, edit, format and save text files until they are WSYWIG (what you see is what you get). The saved files can then be sent to the printer to produce hard copy output or used for other purposes.

Word processors can be used to create multiple kinds of documents including reports, letters, newsletters, invoices, manuals, and has additional features such as mail merge, email and send to blog.

Besides, they can be tuned to for advanced formatting of graphics for publishing.

Examples of word processing applications: MS Word, WPS Writer and Apple Pages.

WPS Writer is an application software for word processing
WPS Writer is an application software for word processing

2. Electronic Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are used to manipulate large amounts of financial data in business, science or for personal accounting. Numeric or text data are entered in cells of tables to be calculated, compared and analyzed using select formulas.

The information gathered from these calculations are laid out for report preparation and presentation.

Additional features in spreadsheets include the creation of graphs, charts, 3D data maps, pivot tables, forecasting etc.

MS Excel, LibreOffice Calc, and Google Sheets are examples of spreadsheets.

Google Sheets is a spreasheet app for the browser
Google Sheets is a spreasheet app for the browser

3. Data Management

Database applications are containers of related data for processing, analysis, storage and retrieval. They are comparable to a book library where items are stored in orderly forms, for ease of manipulation and access.

Typical desktop applications like MS Access, Filemaker and dBASE are used for operational assignments to create, organize and update all kinds of related records like inventories, mailing lists, purchases, catalogs, phone numbers etc.

They allow users to query for specific information and generate reports with relative ease.

Relational database management systems like SQL, Cloud SQL and Oracle are used in complex installations to manage vast data and ensure data integrity.

Facebook, Pinterest and Symantec are just a few of complex database systems built on MySQL foundation.

On the other hand, Not only SQL (NoSQL) database management implementations have taken shape in recent years giving credence to document-oriented databases. They are based on XML and JSON pages unlike relational databases which rely on tables.

Those favoring NoSQL value them because of their flexible data models and better scalability.

phpMyAdmin is a management tool for MySQL
phpMyAdmin is a management tool for MySQL

4. Accounting

The field of accounting is about communicating financial details in a business by recording, manipulating, sorting, storing, summarizing and retrieving financial transactions in a comprehensive manner.

Ultimately, general-purpose accounting packages will be used to create and present balance sheets, income and financial statements, tax reports, all according to set rules and procedures.

A good accounting setup must also be vetted regularly by external auditing firms to ensure it complies with set standards which govern financial establishments. Besides the eagle eye of auditors, the services of professional accounting firm can be sought to help streamline procedural requirements.

Popular accounting software series for small businesses include Quickbooks, Zoho Books and Sage.

Popular applications for enterprise are Xero, Intacct ERP and Microsoft Dynamics.

Audit management software: Audit Desktop, MetricStream and ECAT.

5. Presentation

Presentation software are used to display ideas or concepts for business and educational purposes, in a slideshow format. Popular tools like bulleted lists, graphs, charts, animations, texts, audio and video are used in creating slide-shows.

These applications rely on the computer VGA or other output ports, projector or smartboard to display slide contents.

Additional features include screen recording, sharing and collaboration,

Keynote, MS PowerPoint and Corel Presentations are examples of presentation applications.

Google Slides is an online presentation app
Google Slides is an online presentation app

6. Desktop Publishing (DTP)

DTPs are used to create illustrations, animations and 3D images using text and graphics embedded within the clipart library. DTP page layout features design tools and other elements with which the user can create quality typographic texts and imaginative graphics.

The end result of work done in DTPs are brochures, newsletters, fliers, logos, magazines, newspapers, business and other cards, 3D models etc, for publishing or printing.

Adobe Illustrator, In-design and Microsoft Publisher are but a few of popular DTPs.

MS Publisher is a DTP application software
MS Publisher is a DTP application software

7. Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing

CAD and CAM applications are used by artists and engineers to create 2D and 3D drawings, technical drawings of electrical and automotive structures, media and film animation, interior design and 3models, and surveying. They are meant for professionals that have assignments to produce product models on the computer before implementing the final design in the real world.

CAD applications are commonly used to make architectural and construction drawings and used to design cars, ships, planes, weapons and other forms of machinery.

Popular software in this category include AutoCAD, ArchiCAD and PowerShape.

A car drawing using Sketchup
A car drawing using Sketchup | Source

8. Digital Video Editing

Digital video editing applications are tools used to edit motion video footage and sound recordings by sequencing and trimming clips and adding special effects. The goal is to manipulate recorded events to enhance the quality of presentation.

Edits can be made on recordings made in movie industries, television shows, documentaries, advertisements and in private events.

Adobe Premiere, Pinnacle Studio, and Final Cut studio are examples of editing applications.

9. Educational Reference

Educational applications help students learn new information and skills through interactive presentations. A computer-aided instruction (CAI) application helps students learn how to fix things, new languages, strengthen math skills etc.

Educational simulations of computerized models allow students to simulate experiments which would otherwise be tricky to do in the classroom. Students can also build own computerized models, which they can share with other students locally and globally.

Others are research tools that students use for reference purposes to look up information. They can also interface with the Internet to provide updated material.

Electronic maps, Encarta encyclopedias, Britannica, electronic dictionaries and electronic books are educational applications.

Encarta Encyclopedia
Encarta Encyclopedia

10. Computer Games

Computer games are probably the most popular form of entertainment with the young users. They are more or less similar to games played on video consoles. Typically, they involve users interacting with avatars and other kinds of characters on the display panels to drive, play card games, solve mysteries, fly simulation planes, engage in virtual warfare etc.

Gamers use all sorts of control tools to interact with select games. popular are keyboards, joysticks, voice and gestures.

Besides games played between two individuals at home, online games are played between different people from anywhere in the world using the internet.

Popular desktop games are Batman, Need for Speed, Dead Rising, Angry Birds, FIFA Football, Pokemon Go etc.

11. Web Browsers

Browsers are used to accomplish lots of activities on the internet known as world wide web (WWW). They are also used to source for information on local networks or file servers. Browsers allow users to search, upload, read and even download text files, music, videos, images, web pages and other content from millions of resources available online.

Google, Edge, Safari, Opera and Firefox are the most popular browsers in the market.

Besides the browsers listed above, another category is built around the foundation of online anonymity and privacy. At the forefront of this browsers is the Tor network, which primarily blocks third-party snoops from seeing websites visited by a user, as well as preventing visited websites from tracking user location. It also permits a user to access websites that are usually blocked in ordinary browsers.

Tor browser hides user identification by bouncing the transmission between network relays around the world. This way, user search data and other communication are not easily analyzed and monitored.

Epic and Comodo Dragon are other examples of browsers which support anonymous browsing.

TOR browser
TOR browser

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12. Search Engines

Search engines are types of application software which are used to search for information on the internet. They work on top of browsers and use crawling or spider-like scripts to search for user requests from every corner of the world wide web.

When a user types a search query in the browser, search engine algorithms immediately go to work inside web page and directory databases to look for information that best answers user requests.

Popular search engines include Google Search, Baidu, Bing, Wolfram Alpha, Yandex and DuckDuckGo.

13. Communication Software

These are applications which facilitate remote transmission of information between two or more computer users. Transmission typically happens using internet or intranet and other types of network infrastructure.

These applications facilitate all kinds of transfer ranging from audio, video, text and graphics files to real-time chats.

Communication tools can be grouped under the following:

  • Email e.g. Hotmail, Yahoomail and Gmail.
  • Social network e.g. Facebook, WeChat and Twitter.
  • Videoconferencing e.g. ChatBlazer, Google Hangout and GoToWebinar.
  • Instant messaging e.g. Whatsapp, Facebook messenger and QQ International.
  • VOIP e.g. Skype, Viber and Whatsapp.
  • Private Branch Exchange (PBX) e.g. Asterik, FreePBX and FreeSWITCH

14. Web Development

Web design applications are used to create interactive pages which add up to websites. The pages are usually collections of electronic documents, images, audio/visual files and applications that reside on a web server and are accessible through computers connected to the Internet. A website owner then uses them to advertise, sell or provide educational information about specific products.

Adobe Dreamweaver, Microsoft FrontPage, are examples of web development software.

Wordpress, Joomla and Drupal are dynamic web creation tools which are installed offline on localhosts or online on web server platforms. These applications are designed with easy to use templates, which make web-design a pleasure. A server application like Xampp or Wamp must be installed on a local computer before the aforementioned applications can be installed offline.

Joomla backend
Joomla backend

Other Categories of Application Software

  • Network software: CytoScape, Snort and igraph.
  • Data analysis: SPSS, SAS and Stata.
  • Medical software: Advanced MD, FreeMED and Compulink.
  • Religious software: e-Sword, OpenLP and Logos Bible Software.
  • Virtual applications: Virtual Box, VMware and Windows Virtual PC.
  • Multimedia: Movie Edit Pro, Sony ACID Music Studio and Maya.
  • Media players: Power DVD, VLC and Windows Media Player.
  • Animation software: Cinema 4D, Maya and Blender.
  • Simulation software: Simulink, Enterprise Dynamics and MATLAB.
  • Document viewers: Adobe Reader, DocX Viewer and FreeFileViewer.
  • File Transfer Protocol(FTP): File Zilla, Cyberduck, WinCSP and P2P
  • Remote desktop access: TeamViewer, AeroAdmin and Windows Remote desktop.
  • Cloud storage: Google drive, BackBlaze and SugarSync.
  • Music production: Fruity Loops, Logic Pro and Garageband.
  • Photo editing: Photoshop, Gimp and Affinity Photo.
  • Braille Editors: DBT Duxbury US, PictureBraille and Lambda.
  • Virtual assistants: Siri, Google Now and Braina.

FileZilla for file transfer
FileZilla for file transfer

Custom Software

Custom software (also bespoke software) are tailor-made to provide specific features and tools. They perform only requested functions and may as well contain borrowed features from off-the-shelf applications. Overall, however, they are meant to maximize productivity and provide cordial interfaces for users: this while cutting out the excesses that are integral to general purpose software.

Custom applications are tweaked to suit the changing demands of the client organization. Tweaks may include adaptations to evolving business trends and removal of obsolete features.

Custom software can be customized to create;

  • Security and client identification systems.
  • Consumer application portals.
  • Attendance rosters.
  • Custom receipts and invoices.
  • Stock management applications.
  • Student enrollment, performance and records tools.

Organizations and schools tend to favor custom applications because they work with multiple users and attend to multiple clients.

The ownership rights of a bespoke application also remain with the client, giving him/her absolute authority to use or sell the application.

A bespoke application can be customized to run on traditional computing setups or inside browsers. Popular examples of bespoke software fall under these categories:

  • School Management Information System (SMIS).
  • Point of Sale (POS).
  • Electronic registration software for schools.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Alfred Amuno


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    • Yaali Bizappln profile image


      4 months ago from Chennai

      If you need to develop a custom application for your business using a low-code platform,try Zoho Creator.

      For more info, check it out here:

    • shivani9sharma profile image

      Shivani Sharma 

      6 months ago from India

      Informational :)

    • profile image


      8 months ago

    • GetAppspC profile image


      9 months ago from BD

      Very nice written and clear to understand. But to use above software and playing games you need to download it first. Well you will find all above items from our free software site-

    • profile image


      13 months ago

      Very nice. You have done a great job.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      wow this is nice article using all app content i am working in business site designer ( there are many way


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