Productivity Software

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Productivity Software

Computer software consists of programs that control computer hardware (systems software) and programs that help users solve problems (application software). System software consists of operating systems (e.g., DOS, Windows 98, Linux), device drivers, utilities, and programming languages. Application software consists of a variety of programs that help individuals or groups perform tasks effectively. Application software is divided into different categories based on how it is used. These categories include word processing, spreadsheet software, data management, entertainment, education, and many others. One of the ways to categorize application software is to group word processing, spreadsheets, data management software, and presentation software into a category called productivity software.

Word Processing Software

Word processing software has replaced the typewriter to manipulate text. It can be used to produce documents, such as letters, reports, papers, and manuscripts. Word processors are the most widely used type of software. Word processors are used by students to write reports and papers, by business people to produce memorandums and reports, and by scientists to write research papers and grants.

Word processing software allows users to edit, revise, store, format, and print documents. With a word processor, a user can easily delete, insert, and replace text, use the search-and-replace feature to make global changes to a document, and highlight areas of text (block) on which to perform actions such as "move" or "copy." Informative tables can be created, and images from clip art files or other sources can be incorporated to add clarity or drama to a document. Once the content of a document is set, the user can change the layout and style of the printed page using formatting features of the word processor such as margins, page orientation (landscape/portrait), justification, and line spacing. Spelling and grammar checkers allow the document to be checked for misspellings and grammatical errors. A thesaurus helps the user pick alternate words, and the word count feature provides a quick way to know how many words a document contains. Many word processing programs contain mail-merge options to print customized form letters. Common word processing software includes Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect, and Lotus Word Pro.

Spreadsheet Software

Spreadsheet software applications, sometimes called electronic spreadsheets, perform calculations based on numbers and formulas entered by users. The data can be presented in a traditional accounting format or transformed into graphics such as pie charts, bar graphs, and other visual representations of the information.

Traditional, non-electronic spreadsheets consisted of grids of rows and columns printed on special green paper used by accountants to produce financial projections and reports. In 1978 Daniel Bricklin, a student at Harvard Business School, created the first electronic spreadsheet (Visi-Calc). It allowed users to create tables and financial information by entering data into rows and columns arranged as a grid on a computer screen. Spreadsheet software like VisiCalc and its successors, which automated many functions of financial record keeping and data analysis, helped build the popularity of microcomputers as business tools. Electronic spreadsheets are also used by individuals to track household budgets and balance checkbooks, by business people to create budgets, and by educators to track student grades.

To use an electronic spreadsheet, numbers are entered in cells (the intersection of a row and a column). Cells are given a name consisting of the column letter (such as A-Z) and the row number (such as 1100). The user indicates how these numbers are to be manipulated using formulas or functions. For example, on a household budget spreadsheet, a formula can be created to add the household monthly expenses and store the results in cell B20. The formula, SUM (B1:B19), would sum the values stored in the range of cells starting in B1 and through cell B19. Another formula, B21-B20, could be created to subtract the expenses (in cell B20) from the income (in cell B21) on a household budget spreadsheet. Most spreadsheets also offer a variety of pre-defined formulas called functions that provide powerful mathematical calculations. Typically, these functions are divided into a variety of categories including financial functions (e.g., depreciation, future value, net present value), date and time functions, mathematical and trigonometric functions (e.g., absolute value, sine, cosine, pi), statistical functions (e.g., average, median, variance, standard deviation), and database functions (e.g., average or count the values in a column), to name a few. In 2001 the most popular spreadsheet software packages included Lotus 1-2-3, Microsoft Excel, Quicken, and Quattro Pro.

Database Software

Database software provides a flexible way to join and summarize information from more than one file. Databases are designed, built, and populated with data for a specific purpose and for an intended group of users. Databases help people keep track of things. For example, a high school has a database with information about its studentsnames, identification numbers, addresses, years in school, grade point averages, and so on. These data are used by the school administration to know how many students are enrolled in the school and determine what kinds of classes are needed for these students. Databases are designed, built, maintained, and queried using a set of tools called a database management system (DBMS). Some common database software packages include Microsoft Access, Oracle, FileMaker Pro, and Microsoft SQL Server.

Desktop Publishing, Graphics, and Presentation Software

Desktop publishing software expands the capabilities of word processing software by incorporating graphic design techniques. These techniques enhance the format and appearance of a document to produce professional-quality newspapers, newsletters, brochures, books, and magazines. Common desktop publishing software includes Adobe PageMaker, Microsoft Publisher, Quark Xpress, and Corel Ventura.

Graphics software helps users to create, edit, and manipulate images. Graphics software can be classified into two major types: (1) presentation graphics used to communicate or make a presentation of data to others, and (2) analytical graphics used to make numeric data easier to analyze (e.g., bar charts, line graphs, pie charts). Common graphics software packages include Adobe Illustrator, Harvard Graphics, Crystal Graphics, Macro Media Flash, and Corel Draw or Painter. Many graphics packages specialize in manipulating photographs (e.g., Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Picture It, or Corel Photo-Paint) or business charts and graphs, such as flowcharts (e.g., Microsoft Visio, Smart Draw). Other graphics packages allow the creation of 3-D graphics and wireframe models or images that resemble paintings or sketches.

Presentation software provides the tools that users need to combine text, graphics, animations, and sound into a series of electronic slides. Many executives or public speakers rely on presentation software such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Lotus Freelance Graphics to create interesting and informative speeches. Educators use this software in the classroom. Researchers use electronic slides to present their research results at conferences. Business people use slides to make reports or give sales presentations. Both Power-Point and Freelance contain collections of images and sounds to enhance presentations and provide features to animate both text and graphics. Once a set of slides has been created, it can be viewed as a computer slide show or printed as overhead transparencies, paper copies, or 35mm slides.

Integrated Productivity Software

Integrated productivity software packages combine features of several applications programs into one software package that is sold as a unit. Best-selling integrated packages in 2001 included Lotus Works, Microsoft Works, and WordPerfect Works. The benefit of using an integrated package is that the individual applications are designed to work well together, and a user can easily exchange files created in different parts of the integrated package. In addition, the user interface of the package has been integrated so that the user does not need to learn different ways of interfacing with each individual application. Software suites also integrate different applications into one software package. However, the amount of cohesiveness among the applications in a software suite may not be as complete as in an integrated package. Some common software suites are Microsoft Office and Lotus SmartSuite.


Another type of application software program that is growing in popularity is groupware. This software provides a way for more than one person to collaborate on a project by maintaining a pool of data that can be shared by members of a workgroup. Typically, groupware software combines single-user applications such as calendars, word processors, and databases into a multi-user application along with an electronic meeting system (EMS). The scheduling component of the groupware system helps to coordinate coworkers' electronic date books or appointment calendars. Groupware can also contain workflow software that helps workers understand and redesign the steps that compose a particular process. In general, groupware is thought to improve productivity by keeping members of a group in contact with one another via calendars and documents. One groupware system, Lotus Notes, uses a very large database containing work records, memos, and notations, and combines it with a multi-function messaging system.

Ironically, whether these productivity tools actually make their users more productive is questionable. While many researchers believe that these software applications actually decrease productivity, others are convinced that people are more productive when using productivity software.

see also Database Management Systems; Hollerith, Herman; Office Automation Systems.

Terri L. Lenox and Charles R. Woratschek


Parsons, June Jamrich, and Dan Oja. New Perspectives on Computer Concepts, 4th ed. Cambridge, MA: Course Technology, 2000.