Hardware vs Software vs Firmware

Firmware is a relatively new term in the computing world but it is very important.  Mostly in terms of security, the devices we use today—particularly mobile, cameras and other devices—rely on firmware updates in order to function properly and provide consistent service. Surveillance camera companies like Hikvision, place a heavy emphasis on cybersecurity, and other companies are following in their footsteps.

In order to better understand Firmware, and why it is important, we first need to clarify how it is different from its two, better-known counterparts.

What is Hardware?

Hardware is a term that dates back much further than computers.  It is a term used to describe a tool, to put it simply.  As a matter of fact, retailers known today as “Home Improvement” stores are part of a type of retail family that were once known as “hardware stores.”  These were outlets where you could buy tools you need to build or remodel buildings or to fix machinery.  Hardware, used to refer to things like:

  • Hammers and nails
  • Wrenches and bolts
  • Screwdrivers and screws
  • Lumber
  • Drills and bits

In terms of computers, though, “hardware” refers to the mechanical pieces that perform functions the user needs.  All machines have hardware that never change and must be replaced if you want to improve their function. In a computer, this includes things like:

  • Hard drive (memory)
  • Processor
  • Graphics processor

Hardware does not evolve; it is static. You can however change your hardware if you want to improve performance.

What is Software?

Software is essentially the collective name given to all programs you install on a computer. These programs are fluid and can be changed—in fact, it is in their nature to evolve, and that is why they are called “soft”ware.

Software is a program that you install either from a disk or from the internet in order to customize the function of your computer.  You might install Microsoft Word, for example, to gain access to more convenient writing composition functions.  You might install anti-virus software to establish security while you surf the web.

What is Firmware?

Effectively, firmware tells the computers operating system how to utilize the various types of hardware.  Thus, hardware users embed firmware into their controls to assist the connecting of information between the computers operating system (Windows or iOs for example) and the other software they would like to utilize.

Obviously, firmware is more like software than hardware. However, these two are different because software runs independent of hardware or, rather, software needs specific hardware to work properly. On the other hand, hardware relies on updated firmware to operate properly.