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Categories of Applications

There are six main categories of applications. If you learn a package in each of these categories, you will have a well-rounded foundation on which to build.


Word Processor

A word processor gives you blank electronic paper to write, edit, and produce text. Although many packages give you capabilities for incorporating graphics, the main function is to work with text. Word processing software gives you the ability to format text such as bold, italics, underline … and much more! Examples of when you would use a word processor would be to write letters, papers, articles, and books. The use of word processors is widespread.

In the Microsoft Office suite, the word processing application is called Microsoft Office Word. Other word processing packages include WordPerfect and OpenOffice Writer. WordPad is a simple word processor that comes with Windows and can be found in the Accessories section of Programs.

If you are using Microsoft Word, you do have some basic database capability – Word has a "merge" feature that allows you to keep track of, for instance, names and addresses in one document and, using another document, write a letter with placeholders for merging. The list can be stored in Word. It can also be stored in Access.

When you set up information using Word tables, you also have basic sorting and formula capability … but if you find that you have mostly a list of information – and especially if you want to relate one list of information to another or filter it by certain criteria, you might want to consider storing your merge information in Access.


A spread sheet gives you a work sheet with rows and columns. The intersection of each row and column is called a cell. You can put text, numbers, or a formula (such as to add a column of numbers) into each cell.

A file, called a workbook, can contain many work sheets. Spread sheets are generally used for financial and other applications where calculations, graphs, and "what-if" analysis will be used.

Spreadsheets are among the most popular uses for computers. VisiCalc, a spreadsheet that was originally developed to run on an Apple computer, was responsible for the huge initial sales of personal computers in the late 70s and early 80s. Lotus 1-2-3, VisiCalc, SuperCalc, and Quattro were popular in the DOS world.

In the Microsoft Office suite, the spread sheet application is called Microsoft Office Excel. Other spread sheet applications include Apple Numbers, OpenOffice Calc, and Gnumeric

A lot of confusion originates with when to use a spreadsheet and when to use a database. Many databases do start out in Excel – and then they grow to the point where it is better to convert data to Access, where it is much easier to relate, slice, and dice information. Excel has sorting and filtering capabilities … but they are not the main focus of the package. Due to the nature of a spreadsheet, sometimes data conversion to Access can be a big task! Spreadsheets allow you to put any kind of information anywhere you like … this is a no-no with databases. If your column has a defined data type of number, you cannot, for instance, write, "ask Clint for more details" for the value; it must be a number.

If you find yourself using a lot of comboboxes that look up values from another source with relational capability, or you need complex filtering and sorting, it is time to convert what you have in Excel to Access. Due to the lack of structure requirements of a spreadsheet, data set up in spreadsheets is often redundant (repeating information from one row to another) and not relational. When data is converted into a database, this information should be normalized.


A database gives you a way to structure information into rows (records) and columns (fields). Each of these collections is a relation, also called a table. Tables are the basic object type used for storing information.

Databases give you capabilities to sort and filter information. Where databases really shine is in being able to relate information in one table to another. A phone book is a simple example of a database, as is a hand-written check register, your mother's recipe collection, and even an Excel spreadsheet. Though a phonebook is an example of a simple database and could be tracked with Excel, it has too many records (rows) to contain all the listings for the country. While Excel continues to expand the limit on the number of rows, it does have trouble with filtering (using the Auto-Filter option available) when there are lots of entries. A more complex example requiring a relational database management system would be tracking all the expenses, sales, and accounting allocations for a company.

In the Microsoft Office suite, the database application is called Microsoft Office Access. Other desktop (PC) database applications include dBase (no longer made), FileMaker, and OpenOffice Base. High-end databases include MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, and Sybase.

Unlike other applications, you can't just start typing. A database needs to be planned out and a structure set up before you add data. If you do not plan and just create columns/fields as you need them, you will miss many advantages of a structured, relational database; and you will likely produce an application that will be difficult to query and create reports, and is very error prone.

Access is the hardest application in the Office suite to learn for good reason; it is powerful and you need to first design tables, fields, and relationships before you create your data. Access gives you the ability to create forms for easy entry, and reports for formatted output … but forms and reports should not be designed until the structure of the information is solid. A good database design can take time, and the simplest solution is not often easy to see.

An Access database has 6 main types of objects:

  • Tables
  • Queries
  • Forms
  • Reports
  • Macros
  • Modules

Tables store data.

Queries show information from tables for particular criteria in a particular order.

Forms provide a lot of control over the interaction with the user. You can make your forms look really great. You can also use forms for menus. And for graphs.

Reports enable you to present the data with a professional look. Access has a fantastic reporting tool

Macros and Modules furnish a way to automate tasks using actions (macros and modules) and VBA code (modules).

Where databases really shine is the ease with which you can relate one table of information to another.

Graphics & Multimedia

With graphics and multimedia software, you can create drawings, images, animations, presentations, multimedia, and much more. No one package usually does all these things well.

In the Microsoft Office suite, the graphics application is called Microsoft Office PowerPoint, which is geared toward creating presentations and also provides basic tools for creating drawings and editing images. Other graphics packages include CorelDraw, Corel Photo-Paint, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Flash, IrfanView, Open Office Impress, Microsoft Movie Maker, Sony Vegas, and ULead. Use products like Techsmith Camtasia to edit video and Goldwave to edit audio.

Paint is a simple program you can use to create fun graphics that comes with Windows and can be found in the Accessories section of Programs. Click on the Start button, choose Programs, then Accessories, and you will see PAINT. It is a really fun little program to play with.

Email & Communications

Communications software allows you to exchange text, images, and files with others. Types of communication include email, VOIP (voice-over internet protocol), instant messaging, and newsgroup participation. Outlook Express often comes with Windows and acts as an email and newsgroup client. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, Outlook Express has been replaced by Windows Mail.

In the Microsoft Office suite, Outlook (not Express) provides email and personal contact management capability. Other email packages include Mozilla Thunderbird (which can be used to read newsgroups too) and Netscape Communicator. VOIP software (softphone) like Skype allows you to make telephone calls using the internet.

Instant Messengers, such as Windows Live Messenger and XFire, enable you to chat in real-time

Web Browser

A web browser enables you to render text, images, audio, and video on web pages. Microsoft Internet Explorer comes with Windows; other web browsers include Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Opera (Opera), and Netscape Navigator.

The basic language that web pages render is HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language). Many web pages incorporate non-standard features such as video. Plug-Ins allow web browsers to render a specific file format whose capability is not inherently built-in, or gives other additional capability. Plugs-Ins include Acrobat Reader, Adobe Flash Player, Java, QuickTime, Real Player, Shockwave, Microsoft Silverlight, and Windows Media Player. Some plug-ins, such as Windows Media Player and Acrobat Reader are also stand-alone applications.

Type a URL in the browser address bar to go to a specific place.

If you want to search for something, type → Bing.com
in the browser address bar. You can search for web content, images, videos, and much more.

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This page has been accessed 6,472 times.  This page was last modified 11:28, 14 February 2012 by Jack Leach. Contributions by Walter Niesz, Glenn Lloyd, Ace and strive4peace2010  Disclaimers