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The term software referring to programs or applications installed on computer systems, stands in contrast to computer hardware, including the computer itself, printers, modems, keyboards and mice, or any other equipment used to operate the system. There are many kinds of software programs, including word processors, spreadsheets, and games, etc. Computers are often purchased with a base set of software pre-installed, but can be purchased separately. Today, many applications can be accessed and utilized online, without having to be installed on the computer itself. One such example are e-mail programs. Most software has a common interface or "look and feel," that enables users to quickly assimilate the functionality in different programs. Software is typically designed for a specific operating system such as Windows or Macintosh; some software companies provide software on both platforms.

Many types of software are used by genealogists and aid the process such the word processor, e-mail, and graphics (photo) photo editor, to name a few. A common software application for researchers is a genealogy database such as the Personal Ancestral File (PAF), Family Tree Maker, Legacy, etc. This software is installed on the user's machine with a program CD or downloaded from the Internet. The genealogy database is another program that is recently being offered online. Many social networking sites allow users to build a "family tree" or information database, and store that information online. Some of these social networks operate by subscription, presenting the issue of retrieving your data should you choose to cancel your subscription or the company goes out of business.

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