Downloading programs vs. installing programs: must-have computer skills


One thing you can count on with computers (which includes smartphones, tablets and iPads) is that things will always change; they will never stay the same for very long.

With computers, there will always be something to add, update, upgrade or replace. Monthly operating system updates for Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac users are de rigueur, and other items like Adobe Flash and Java need frequent updating, too. All these programs require that software, in the form of “files,” be downloaded from somewhere on the Internet, and then, the programs must be installed. Sometimes, these chores are somewhat automatic; sometimes, you must do them yourself.

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Download a file, download a program, download software, these phrases all refer to the same thing: instructions are given to a remote computer located somewhere on the Internet to transfer a collection of digital information your computer. In turn, your computer is instructed to allow the receipt of that information and store it somewhere that it can be retrieved and used at a later time, usually on your computer’s hard drive. This information is typically called a “file.”

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Downloading the file only gets half the job done, though. Downloading the file is not the same as “installing” the file. “Installing” the downloaded file means giving instructions to take the downloaded information and use it to change your computer. Without installation, the file just sits there, and nothing is changed or updated.

Bringing all of these things to pass is usually pretty easy, and is done in a series of steps. (1) Use your computer’s browser (Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc.) to find the desired file to download, usually located on a website, somewhere. (2) Tell the file to download. (3) Pick a location on your computer’s hard drive to save the file. (4) Locate and install the file. (5) Mission accomplished.

As an example, here’s how to download and install the latest version of Adobe Flash Player. (1) Use your browser to visit Adobe’s website at and scroll down the right side of the page until you see the Adobe Flash Player download link. Click the link. (2) On the next page that appears, uncheck the box that allows “optional” add-ons like McAfee or Chrome and click “Download now.” (3) Choose and/or make note of the download location, because you will need to locate the downloaded file later, for installation.

Step 3 is usually the one that confuses file-downloading newbies the most. People complete the download stage, but don’t know where the downloaded file went, which prevents them from completing the download/install process. When you click the “Download” or “Save” link, pay attention to what happens. If you are using Firefox, it may have been preconfigured to download all files into a folder called “Downloads.” You need to be able to find that folder, so, it is sometimes a good idea to make sure you actually know how to find the Downloads folder before you begin the file downloading process.

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You may also be given the option to choose the download destination. It doesn’t really matter that much what location you pick, as long as you make note of the location for future reference. Be sure to remember the name of the downloaded file, too. I will often choose “Desktop” as the download destination because files located there are super-easy to find. Some people save downloaded files to their Documents or My Documents folders, because they already know how to get there.

If you use Internet Explorer as your browser, you may be given the option to “Run” (another word for “install”) the file. I rarely choose this option; downloading the file first, and then installing, gives more consistent results. Click the little arrow next to “Save,” choose “Save As,” pick your download location, and then move on to step 4.

Once you have located your downloaded file, you are ready for the installation process. To begin, double-click the downloaded file. Say “Yes,” “OK” or “Next” to whatever windows may appear, and agree to the ridiculous License Agreement that you are not going to read. Accept the default installation location, and keep following the instructions until you are finished.

Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or

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