For a computer to accomplish the tasks you desire, you must supply it with the proper applications software. Applications software are computer programs that instruct the computer on how to perform specific functions.
You can purchase the most expensive business computer available, but it won't do much for your business if the software it's running doesn't do what you want. You can run into a similar problem if the computer you acquire isn't capable of effectively running your desired software. Accordingly, it's frequently better to determine which software applications you'll be using before you decide what computer hardware to acquire.
The most basic kind of software is operating system software, which is a program such as one of Microsoft's Windows iterations - 95, 98, ME, NT,2000 etc. - that controls the computer's monitor, disk drives, printer, and other components and also controls how the components work with your applications software. Most computers come with the most up-to-date version of this software preloaded.
Apart from operating system software, the general types of applications software that you may find to be useful include:
If you expect that you'll be using more than one of these programs, you may want to shop around for an integrated software package, sometimes known as an "office suite." Integrated packages effectively combine several tools into a single program. For example, there are several products on the market that combine word processing, spreadsheet, and database management functions.
Another option for obtaining applications that will work well together is to hire a software consultant to create a custom-made program for your business. This is more expensive than purchasing ready-made software off the shelf, but may well be worth the investment if you can't find existing programs that meet your specific needs.
Yet a third option is to purchase a package that has been developed specifically for your industry. This may be particularly important for retailers, who tend to have very large and specific information needs.
In seeking answers to your software questions, your best source may be other business operators. (This is not to say that competent salespeople and company reps are not valuable information sources, only that they're not in a business similar to yours, and they may have a financial interest in influencing your purchasing decision.) Use conversations with other business owners to learn which tasks they've effectively computerized and which applications software they're running. Are they happy with their software? What do they like and dislike about the software? How easy was it to put the software to work? How much training was required?
If you're having difficulty finding someone to talk to, consider attending a
local computer user group meeting. Before you actually commit to purchasing a
particular program, request an in-store demonstration and attempt to have the
program run a few of the tasks you'll be expecting it to perform.