Information Systems Theory


Chapter 2: Software Applications: User Tools



This chapter discusses various types of applications. The objectives important to this chapter are:

  1. Understanding a user interface, and a graphical user interface
  2. Understanding the features of common types of applications
  3. Understanding the advantages of integrated software and software suites
  4. Understanding Object Linking and Embedding (OLE)
  5. Understanding where to look for support tools when using applications



Chapter 2 begins with a review of some concepts from Chapter 1. You are reminded that an operating system is a set of programs for controlling computer hardware, sending instructions to the CPU, and generally handling the the most basic functions of the computer.

A distinction is drawn between a user interface and a graphic user interface. All operating systems and all applications have user interfaces, which may or may not be graphic. The user interface is simply the method used to interact with something, whether it is the operating system, a program, or a piece of hardware. (Yes, printers and other devices often have their own interfaces.)

The most widely known graphic user interface is probably Microsoft Windows. That phrase is copyrighted by the Microsoft company, and it refers to a number of their products. In explaining their interface, we use the word "window" without a capital W, which refers to a rectangular area on the screen. Some terms used in this section of the chapter:

  • window - as above, a rectangular area on the screen, usually holding the interface to an application
  • menu - a list of choices; the list is often displayed to the user after the user clicks on the first word in a menu; menus are used by one or more single clicks
  • command - an instruction to a program, issued by any of several means (like clicking a button, or choosing something on a menu)
  • icon - a picture that stands for an application, a command, or an action in a program; to use an icon, you typically double-click it
  • button - an icon that appears in an interface; buttons are used to make choices or to carry out instructions; to use a button, single click it
  • toolbar - also called a button bar; a series of buttons that are placed in a handy place for the user to access them
  • option button - a button used to indicate a choice; two types are common:
    • radio buttons - several of these usually appear as sets; the user is only allowed to choose one in any set, as in this example:
      Review: You are only allowed to pick one of the answers below.


    • check boxes - the user may pick as many check boxes as are needed for their choices
      Review: You are can pick as many check boxes in a set as you like.

      I want an A in this class!
      I want a 100% in this class!
      I wish the test was over already!
      I don't care, grades are unimportant.

The text discusses several types of application programs you may encounter, and common features for each type:

  • Word processing - used to create and edit letters, memos, business or personal documents.  Common features: WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get: screen resembles the printed output); word wrap; scrollable; insertion and deletion supported; cut, copy, and paste functions; spelling checker; grammar checker; autocorrection; formatable output; supports clip art; able to print in portrait or landscape mode
  • Desktop Publishing - more powerful than the average word processor, used to create professional documents. Features: more control over placement and appearance of text; more color control; more format control
  • Spreadsheet - used for calculations. Features: a grid of cells, columns, and rows; each cell may contain labels, values, or formulas; usually have many built-in functions, such as statistical, financial, and date functions; usually capable of producing charts of data
  • Database - essentially a list of information, powerful ones are capable of complicated data storage and interpretation. Features: a database responds to queries, questions from users, phrased in a formal language; capable of holding various types of data, such as alphanumeric, numeric, currency, and dates
  • Presentation Graphics - for presenting facts or ideas to an audience. Features: able to use clip art; able to show text and graphics; often able to use animation and sound in the presentation
  • Communications Software and Web browsers - used to dial into telephone based services, or to communicate within networks. Features: able to keep a list of phone numbers or network addresses to connect to; able to read and display several file formats
  • E-mail - used to send messages to other users. Features: usually able to read e-mail created by any other e-mail application; may be used for formal or informal communications; often include spelling checkers and thesauruses
  • Personal Information Manager - used as scheduling aids for individuals or groups. Features: often found on PCs and on handheld devices like the Palm Pilot.
  • Personal Finance - an accounting program for an individual or small business. Features: manage accounts; estimate taxes; print checks and/or pay accounts online
  • Project Management - for managing the tasks involved in large projects. Features: PERT charts; Gantt charts; timelines; able to manage time, staff, and resources
  • Accounting - programs used to manage the accounts of large businesses. Features: payroll; accounts receivable; accounts payable; invoicing; general ledgers
  • Groupware - give users the ability to share files and workspace for a common project while working on separate computers, or in separate locations. Features: schedules; workflows; file space; communications; updating copies of shared files
  • Computer-Aided Design - program run on high end computers that replaces drafting of construction, engineering, and other detailed documents. Features: able to create and edit highly complex drawings and blueprints; able to rotate objects for simulated three dimensional viewing
  • Multimedia Authoring - for creating multimedia presentations including sound, video, interactivity and other features. Features: able to combine sound and video clips; able to add voice over; able to create and present user with a convenient interface for controlling the presentation
  • Integrated Software - a single application that is capable of multiple functions. Features: able to carry out most functions of a word processor, a spreadsheet, a database, etc.
  • Software Suite - a collection of applications sold as a package. Features: usually from one vendor (like Microsoft), the packages often pass data between them more readily than packages from different publishers; more powerful and full featured than Integrated Software

Object Linking and Embedding is the art of taking a part of one document, storing a "copy" in another document, and being able to update in either document. If you embed, you can edit in either document, but editing in the copy does not affect the original. An embedded object is desirable if you want to work on the copy as if you were actually using the application that created it. If you link, you can edit in the copy and the changes will update the original. A change made to a linked object will update all copies of itself. However, the updating feature is overrated. The update assumes that there is some means of communication between the original and copy. If both documents are on a network, and if the machines they are stored on are able to communicate with each other, the update may take place.

The last topic in the chapter is Learning Aids and Support Tools. Three types are listed, all of which have to do with common applications:

  • Online Help - this is more properly called built-in help. Most applications have help files, which are commonly accessed through the Help selection on their menu bars. Some applications, browsers for example, assume that you have a connection to the Internet, and they actually keep their Help files on a server that you can access. This type of help actually is online.
  • Tutorials - many applications come with one or more built-in tutorials, lessons to teach a user how to use the application. An application that has such an option will usually offer it on the Help menu.
  • Wizards - a wizard is a built-in program within an application that walks the user through a process that might be confusing without some help. The user is often asked to make selections or fill in values in boxes, indicating how they want a task to be done. The wizard completes the task at hand for the user, often showing the user how to do it next time.