1. As a verb, to program a computer is the writing of instructions, statements, or commands that instruct the computer how to process data. There are several programming languages used to program a computer.

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2. As a noun, a program, also called an application or software, is a set of instructions that process input, manipulate data, and output a result. For example, Microsoft Word is a word processing program that allows users to create and write documents. A browser, such as the one you are using to view this page, is a program.

Apps vs. programs

When Apple introduced the iPhone, they popularized the term "app," but an app (application) and program are the same thing. Today, most people think of an "app" as an application on an Apple computer, smartphone, or tablet. A program is thought of as something that runs on a computer (e.g., a Windows computer).


With all the different ways companies and people use these terms, it"s best to think of an application, app, and program as the same thing. See our app page for further information on mobile apps.

Programs vs. scripts

When a program is created, it"s compiled into a language that the computer can understand. Once compiled, the program does not need any other programs to run as long as the computer has the required operating system and platform. A script is not compiled and needs an interpreter to translate the script into something the computer understands. Without an interpreter, the script cannot run on the computer. However, once installed, a script can run on any platform without needing to be re-written. See our script term for further information and the pros and cons of scripts.

Commands vs. programs

A command is an instruction that is given to a program or operating system to perform an action. See our command page for further information.

What type of files are program files?

A program file must be an executable file and for software programs running Microsoft Windows end with a file extension of .EXE, .COM, or .PIF. Executing these files runs the program and allows it to be used on the computer. On an Apple Macintosh computer, a program ends through .APP.

Examples of computer programs

There are millions of different programs available for computers, phones, and other devices today. Below are a few examples and the related program category.

ProgramProgram Category
Adobe AcrobatPDF reader
Adobe After EffectsVideo editor
Adobe DreamweaverHTML editor
Adobe PhotoshopPhoto editor
AudacityAudio software
Comm CentralFax/Voice/Phone
Google ChromeInternet Browser
Hyper TerminalTerminal program
Microsoft ExcelSpreadsheet
Microsoft PowerPointPresentation
Microsoft WordWord processor
Mozilla ThunderbirdE-mail client
Norton Anti-VirusAntivirus
C++Programming language
SkypeChat and VoIP

What is the purpose of a program?

Without application software (programs), your computer would be able to operate with the operating system (system software), but would not be capable of doing anything else. A program gives the computer and user the ability to perform specific tasks. For example, to browse the Internet, you would install a browser on the computer. A browser is a program that instructs the computer how to visit, display, and navigate a web page. Without a browser program, the computer would not be able to browse the Internet.

What are the basic functions of a program?

The functions of a program vary depending on the type of program. For example, the function of a browser program is to browse the Internet. The function of a word processor is to create, view, and edit documents. A program is usually designed to perform a specific task (function), and only that task. In other words, a word processor program can create a document, but it cannot be used to browse the Internet.


Today, with cloud computing and online services, it may be confusing to know how to define a service, such as Google Docs. Google Docs is a word processor, but it primarily runs through the browser and therefore is considered a web-based application, not a program.

Are game programs?

Yes, games are programs, but may be labeled as "games" and not "programs," to distinguish them as designed for leisure rather than productivity. As a category of programs, games have subcategories of their own, such as FPS, MMO, and RPG. For example, Quake is an "FPS game."

Is Microsoft Windows a program?

No. All versions of Microsoft Windows are considered an operating system and not a program.

What was the first program?

The first software program that was held in electronic memory was written by Tom Kilburn. The program calculated the highest factor of the integer 218 = 262,144, and was successfully executed on June 21, 1948, at the University of Manchester, England. The computer was called the SSEM (Small Scale Experimental Machine), otherwise known as the "Manchester Baby.". This event is widely celebrated as the birth of software.

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3. Program is the Swedish translation for the Windows Program Files folder.

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