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Terminology about what you can license: applications, programs, software packages, solutions, and systems – but no clear distinctions among the terms

If you’re reading this and your company sells software, help the rest of us with a comment. What are the differences between these five terms? Some connotations for me are below but many distinctions and definitions elude me, not to mention there may be other terms that deserve to be on the list..

“Programs” are almost elemental, a notch above “code.” Code is the set of instructions written so that a central processing unit, once the code is compiled (if that is necessary), can do something. The term program sounds out-of-date now. “Let’s license a program so CPM can emulate DOS.”

An “application” does a narrower range of things and is very practical. “We wrote an application to print address envelopes for FOIA requests to the EPA.” Today, “apps” abound for mobile devices.

“Software package” suggests that several applications are combined, all to good effect for the user. “Our software package calculates interest due, creates forms, and tracks the matters in a database.”

“Solutions” appeals to marketers because general counsel and other potential purchasers (prospects) don’t care about the technical wizardry and whether Java is the right language. They want their problem solved. “With this solution, all your cares about international currency conversion disappear!”

“Systems” takes software package up a notch. A system has “modules” and an integrated look to it (the graphical user interface, GUI, which the screen shows). It sounds grander to consider implementing a whole suite of capabilities. “Let’s go for the system that has the best functions and features as well as a robust user base.”

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