I am a bit confused about the way the terms software and application are being used these days. It seems that the additional context of web and mobile has added to the meaning when people use one term over another.

I see a few different context that I would like to see some clarification:

  • Products: Is software, application and software application the same thing?
  • Services: Is software seen as a service? Is application seen as a service?
  • Jobs/skills: Is a software developer the same as an application developer?

Lastly, is the usage different when it comes to web and mobile? A web application and a mobile App would appear to be different things, but shouldn't they both be considered software?

  • Could the downvoter explain what is wrong with this question, other than it might better belong on a different SE site? The question seems well thought out and organized. If you feel it should be moved then flag it; but a downvote only because it may be better suited elsewhere is not a good downvote. Jun 25, 2014 at 2:01
  • 1
    If the question is intended in terms of "how do I describe my product / software / service to my users?" then I think it's fine to ask on this site.
    – Franchesca
    Jun 25, 2014 at 7:25

2 Answers 2


This really is not a question for UX.SE and should be migrated to English.SE, but none the less:

  • Software has no defined boundaries. An application has a defined boundary. Word is software, like Coca Cola is a drink. Word is an application, like Coca Cola is a specific type of soda.
  • Software is not seen as a service, nor is an application seen as a service. A service is something that is offered over a period of time. Access to a software application can be offered as a service though.
  • Software developer and Application developer is the same, although it could be argued that an application developer is laying some claim that he could develop an entire application on his own, whereas an software developer just makes clear what kind of thing he's making. Either way, looking at Google ngrams and Google search software developer is the far more common term.

And of course they are both software, regarding web applications and mobile applications or anything else that runs on a computer (including mobile computers).

Honestly, I don't believe the web has changed anything here. The only 'new' thing is SaaS, where access to software (a specific application or suit of applications) is provided as a service. And the other new thing is the term "app" to refer primarily (though not necessarily exclusively) to mobile software.

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    I think it should be in UX.SE because people English.SE probably wouldn't see the practical difference unless they were working in the field specifically. Also, because I think the people in the IT and UX field (especially management level) don't seem to differentiate between the terms, it would be more useful to answer the question here.
    – Michael Lai
    Jun 25, 2014 at 1:33
  • @MichaelLai: Just cause people here might have the knowledge doesn't mean this is the place to ask ;-) SE works with defined boundaries and english language question go on english.SE... this question really is offtopic on here (see help center). Either way, once a mod comes online it will probably get migrated soon enough, so that should solve the problem Jun 25, 2014 at 1:37

In terms of selling stuff that programmers write:

  • Software is anything that is stored in memory and run as an instruction set on a processor / hardware. It may need some compilation before this is possible.
  • An application is an architecture of software that at a minimum will have some kind of user interface. It can be as simple as the little calculator app on the Windows OS, or it can be something that has a vast and complex backend (e.g. google maps).
  • A product is software that, when sold to a user, they get a version / copy of (downloaded onto their device, on a disk etc.) that they can use as much as they want. You can make this obsolete with newer versions but you can't take it away from them.
  • A service is something that is provided to users from a remote location (servers). There can be some sort of downloaded client provided with it, but it is not functional without access to the service. If it is paid for it is normally a fee for a stretch of time using it. It can be changed or access can be stopped at any time.

For jobs, Software Developer is very general term for anyone who writes instructions to run on hardware. They could just be writing a few lines a week doing maintenance. Application developer implies some knowledge of UIs and architecture is required, working on a whole (probably complicated) system.

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