The term software is often attributed to John Turkey, a Princeton University statistician, who first used it in 1957 to describe those aspects of computing that were not directly associated with the electronic and mechanical parts of a computer. The term was not common until a few years later and today is applied to any program that is run on a computer.

Software can be divided up into many different facets: operating systems, communications, program language translators, applications, and even games. While the earliest software systems were directly involved with either the operating system, language translation, or fundamental routines like sorting files, today the term is more commonly applied to applications such as word processing spread sheets, and picture modification packages.

Software was given away free with the computer until it became one of the most expensive components. Beginning in the 1960s the large companies began charging for software and numerous firms sprang up to enter the market.