what are tape drives used for?

what are tape drives used for?
do they require software to be used?
Can you install programs on them
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Tape Drives are mainly used for backup purposes. You can not in any practical way run programs from them. Some versions of Windows has backup software available as part of the OS, but your best off using a backup program that supports your tape drive model.

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Tape drives are usually used for backing up data. You would need some backup software and would tell the software to back up whatever data you select to the tape or tapes. You can get multiple tape drives that host multiple tapes so can backup large amounts of data.
The good thing about tapes is you can take them off site in case of fire etc and nowdays they can hold a lot of data as mentioned. The write speeds would not be enough to load programs on them . Disks are for data usage as they are a lot more resilient and tapes fail...a lot!
Hope that helps
A tape drive, which is also known as a streamer, is a data storage device that reads and writes data stored on a magnetic tape. It is typically used for archival storage of data stored on hard drives. Tape media generally has a favorable unit cost and long archival stability.

Instead of allowing random-access to data as hard disk drives do, tape drives only allow for sequential-access of data. A hard disk drive can move its read/write heads to any random part of the disk platters in a very short amount of time, but a tape drive must spend a considerable amount of time winding tape between reels to read any one particular piece of data. As a result, tape drives have very slow average seek times. Despite the slow seek time, tapes drives can stream data to tape very quickly. For example, modern LTO drives can reach continuous data transfer rates of up to 80 MB/s, which is as fast as most 10,000 rpm hard disks.

An external QIC tape drive.Tape drives can range in capacity from a few megabytes to hundreds of gigabytes, uncompressed. In marketing materials, tape storage is usually referred to with the assumption of 2:1 compression ratio, so a tape drive might be known as 80/160, meaning that the true storage capacity is 80 whilst the compressed storage capacity can be approximately 160 in many situations. IBM and Sony have also used higher compression ratios in their marketing materials. The real-world, observed compression ratio always depends on what type of data is being compressed. The true storage capacity is also known as the native capacity or the raw capacity.

Tape drives can be connected to a computer with SCSI (most common), Fibre Channel, FICON, ESCON, parallel port, IDE, SATA, USB, FireWire or other interfaces. Tape drives can be found inside autoloaders and tape libraries which assist in loading, unloading and storing multiple tapes to further increase archive capacity.

Some older tape drives were designed as inexpensive alternatives to disk drives. Examples include DECtape, the ZX Microdrive and Rotronics Wafadrive. This is generally not feasible with modern tape drives that use advanced techniques like multilevel forward error correction, shingling, and serpentine layout for writing data to tape.

Its of 3 types,

1. DLT Drives
  The Industry Standard in Reliability and Manageability
Compressed capacity from 80GB* to 1600GB*
Compressed performance from 21.6GB/hour* to 432 GB/hr

2.  LTO Ultrium drives
Worlds Fastest Growing Tape Technology
Compressed capacity from 200GB* to 1600GB*
Compressed performance from 115GB* to 864GB/hour*

3. DAT/DDS Drive
  The Defacto Standard in Data Protection for Small Business
Compressed capacity from 24GB* to 72GB*
Compressed performance from 7.9GB* to 25.2GB/hour*

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