Generic applications

You should be aware of and ideally have some experience of the selection of common generic applications for a particular purpose. The phrase 'generic software' or 'generic applications' simply means that a particular piece of software can be used in many different situations - it isn't a piece of software that can only be used for a very specific business application. There are many examples that could be given in this section. We will highlight some of them. It should be pointed out that the functions performed by a type of software have become very blurred in recent years. We will see some examples of this as we describe each type of application.

Word processing software

The tools that come with word processing applications should ensure that a user (who actually uses them) produces high quality documents. When letters were written using typewriters, it was easy to make mistakes. When they were made, they could be 'typed over' with correction fluid but this did not look professional, especially if more than one occurred - the only choice was to re-write the whole document. (The author can remember having to re-type many pages for university projects!) In addition, it was possible that mistakes were not actually found in the first place because they were manually checked. The documents themselves would only contain text, although with time and some clever use of scissors, glue and a photocopier graphs and pictures could be included! Nowadays, word processing software can be used for a whole range of things. Examples of the types of applications include:

  • Preparing letters and other documents requiring textual information.
  • Producing mail merge documents and labels.
  • Producing basic promotional literature such as certificates and flyers. This used to be the domain of desk top publishing software but most word processing software can easily combine pictures, text, different layouts and tables, for example.
  • Producing a basic flat file database with records that can be sorted. More complex databases needing advanced features will require a database application. Nevertheless, tables of records with basic facilities can be produced in many word processors.
  • Simple spreadsheets.
  • Simple diagrams can be produced by many word processors because they come with drawing tools.

The expectation of perfectly word-processed documents came with the introduction of word processing software. There is little excuse for incorrectly spelt work because documents should be spell-checked and users can set the software to correct documents automatically. Grammar checks, whilst not perfect, ensure that users think about their English! The provision of thesauruses should ensure that users are not lost for words or use the same words too often. Documents can easily be made more interesting by adding borders, watermarks, pictures or tables. The days of boring-looking documents are long gone! The traditional role of secretaries has all but disappeared, too. They are much more likely to be highly skilled, better-paid personal assistants rather than simply 'typists'.

Spreadsheet software

Spreadsheet software applications are typically organised in a way similar to traditional book-keeping systems. This type of software is aimed at applications that involve the processing of numbers, for example, payroll systems and accounts systems.

  • There are many different work sheets.
  • Each work sheet is arranged into rows and columns of 'cells', or boxes, into which a piece of data is entered.
  • Each cell and therefore each piece of data, has an address that can be referred to, for example, A4 or H12.
  • Formulas can then be written into cells that refer to data in other cells. The results of the formulas are displayed.
  • When a piece of data is changed, all the values displayed in cells where there are formulas are automatically updated.

Spreadsheets are not only used for processing data. Many successful databases have been set up in spreadsheet software! This is because spreadsheet software gives you the ability to manipulate rows of data, search for values and even do complex queries. Spreadsheet applications have had a major impact. Once a spreadsheet has been set up and has been tested, it can be re-used. Data can be entered and formulas will do the calculations automatically. They will be correct every time! Before spreadsheet software, calculations had to be done manually, which introduced the potential for human error. Some accountants' handwriting was very suspect and this was another potential source of error. Spreadsheet software produces very neat and readable work sheets. It is a small step in software to go from data to graphs and charts and reports. This was a large step before software was used.

Modelling is another major benefit of spreadsheet software. It is possible, for example, to build a model of the economy and run a simulation. Many 'what if' questions could easily be asked and tried out. For example, consider the question “What would happen if taxes were put up by a penny in the pound”? This could be tested in the model to see how the economy would react. This kind of modelling has enabled companies to produce very good business plans because they can 'try out' different market strategies in models before actually implementing them without risk.

Database software

This type of software is aimed at data processing, usually involving records. Applications could include a pupil database, a room-booking database for a hotel or a database to hold driving licence holders' details. Features typically include the following:

  • The ability to store similar records in tables.
  • The ability to set up user-friendly data input forms.
  • The provision of validation routines so that both data consistency and integrity are maintained in the database.
  • The ability to reorganise records quickly.
  • The ability to search through records to find the ones that meet complex criteria.
  • The ability to write formulas that can process data held in records.
  • The ability to produce professional-looking reports.

Database applications now mean that it takes just seconds to completely re-sort thousands of records or search for records that meet certain criteria. For example, consider a pupil database. Perhaps one minute you need all the records in alphabetical order and the next minute you need them in tutor groups. Suppose you need the records of everyone who was born before a particular date. These are big jobs if the records are held in a paper-based system but will take only a few seconds on a computer-based system. It is very easy to mislay records in a paper-based system. For example, if somebody files a record in a wrong place, how can you find it again except by starting at the first record and working your way through all of them. This problem is practically eliminated with computerised databases.

Desktop publishing software (DTP)

Word processors often have many features of DTP programs. However, a DTP program should still have a wider range of tools to manipulate text, pictures and the layout of material on the page, for example. They are typically used for producing quality certificates, menus, promotional literature, business cards, posters, newsletters and newspapers. DTP software has put within everyone's reach the potential to produce very high quality documents and publications. Many people now use them to produce magazines for their hobbies and clubs. DTP packages typically come with many templates and wizards, so that even a novice can quickly put together a super-looking document. These can be printed out easily on printers that will organise what needs to be printed on which page. Printers that print automatically on both sides of the paper cost only a few hundred pounds. This would not have been possible a few years a go.

Presentation software

Many different types of multimedia presentation packages exist now. There are many advantages and disadvantages of doing a presentation to a group of people using a presentation package compared to say, using OHP slides.

  • You can easily combine sound, animation, movie clips, text, special effects and scanned images in a multimedia presentation.
  • Templates allow the production of quality multimedia presentations quickly.
  • You can quickly try out different ideas for a presentation on computer but exploring ideas would take far longer if you were using a non-computer method of presentation.
  • Presentations could be interactive. For example, a presentation could be run on a computer at the front of a library. The user could use a touch screen to navigate through options presented by the presentation. There would be no need for someone to actually be there doing the presenting.
  • A presentation done using a presentation package could be sent all over the world by email and used. Again, if it was designed to be interactive, or to run constantly, you wouldn't need to have someone present it. It could be loaded up on a computer and run.
  • It is usually straightforward to import text, graphs, or data, for example, from other pieces of software, especially if the presentation software is part of an integrated suite of programs. This can be very useful for business professionals who need to present very polished reports, a marketing plan or their vision for the future development of the business, for example.
  • A little training is always required with any software packages.
  • The software and the hardware to run the application can initially be expensive.
  • What happens if you are doing a very important presentation and the computer breaks down? You need to have a back-up plan and ideally some technical support at hand. Of course, the latter is not always possible but a sensible speaker needs to have a plan if the equipment doesn't perform in the way it should!

Drawing software

This type of software is used to produce drawings and diagrams. These can be saved and then used in a web page or in a presentation or in a desktop publishing piece of work. They have many tools such as ones that allow you to draw shapes, add special effects and mix your own colours. Drawing software allows ideas to be quickly tried out, archived drawings to be quickly modified to produce new drawings and special effects to be added - again, all within the reach of people who wouldn't have been able to produce quality drawings only a few years ago. Drawings also take up a lot of space and engineering companies used to have whole rooms and staff dedicated to storing drawings. Now, they can all be stored on computer! They can also be easily retrieved and easily sent to people all over the world. Of course, this has a security implication that needs to be thought about. Physical drawings locked away in a secure room may arguably be more secure than drawings stored on a server that is prone to hacking, disgruntled employees, fire and so on.

Software | Business

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