All Slawyers seem far more expert on computers than I. I am badly confused by the verbs that I encounter—you may have noticed that I get hung up on words; I love them and believe that they actually have or should have a precise meaning.

I am occasionally invited to “install” a programme. When I try to do so, I am asked whether I want to “run” it or “save” it. Now I have lost my verb, “install.” What do I do? Neither verb seems responsive to the invitation to install anything. If I save it, how will I even find where it is and what do I do then? If I run it, is this a one-off thing that I shall have to perform for ever? In the end I usually just give up.

I wish that those who write instructions or present options for people like me would remember that we are very ignorant and need to be lead very, very gently by the hand (and with consistent verbs).

Where do I go to find an explication of a word like “install”? Can someone direct me, please?


  1. Unfortunately, running searches for “install” in various standard dictionaries is not particularly helpful. Searching the internet for dictionaries or glossaries of computer terms does not produce much help at the level you seem to want: there are some very useful lists for computer abbreviations and more specific terminology, and also a lot of somewhat funny but less than illuminating jokes on the topic. In between, I’d try the old method: look for print dictionaries and encyclopedia with the LC subject headings
    Computers — Dictionaries.
    Computers — Encyclopedias.
    I see in WorldCat that there are several likely suspects that may fit your bill…

  2. Install doesn’t really have a different meaning for a computer program than it does for anything else.

    Think about installing a dishwasher. When you install some piece of software you are setting it up to be semi-permanently fixed and accessible on your computer.

    You are integrating that piece of software into your computing environment just like you are integrating the dishwasher into your kitchen.

    I agree that the next two options that come up namely “run” or “save” are a little confusing. However they are entrenched in the jargon and it would probably confuse more people at this point to use something else.

    Hopefully this will clear it up for you:
    To install/affix a piece of software [we’ll call it ‘Y’] onto your computer, you need to execute another piece of software that knows how to install ‘Y’ (this is called the installer). When you are asked if you want to “save” or “run” you are being asked if you want to ‘run’/execute the installer program (which will accomplish your ultimate goal of having program “Y” added to your computer) or if you want to ‘save’ the installer program to your computer to ‘run’/execute at a later more convenient time.

    Where you save it to is either some default location set up on your computer or you get to pick (that’s how you will know where to find it).

    In almost all cases you want to pick ‘run’.

    It should be noted that in most situations the installer program and the program ‘Y’ would both be bundled together to give you, the user, the impression it’s just one thing.

    So while it may not be the clearest way to prompt an unfamiliar user, it isn’t technically an issue of inconsistent verbs. The ‘install’ refers to your larger goal while the ‘run’ or ‘save’ options are a choice in how or when you want to carry out a step in the process of achieving that goal.

    Hope this is helpful – sorry if you were just looking for a good computer dictionary!

  3. Ryan’s probably made things perfectly clear, Angela. But just in case pictures would help, you might take a look at the Microsoft XP Tutorial for installing programs (from the web — they have one for installing programs from a CD):

    I’m including a picture here of the start of it, just so you can see what you’d be getting into.

  4. “Install” (as a computer term) means the same as it does in other situations (such as install a dishwasher, install a diplomat, install a dictator). It means to place the thing in a particular position and, if needed, set it up to do whatever it is meant to do (after all, just parachuting a dictator into a country doesn’t install him, you have to actually put him in control).

    The button you click on a web page generally gets you an “installer” (being the thing that does the installing–like the cable guy). You need to “run” the installer. You have a choice of either doing that immediately or “saving” the installer to run later.

    Installing is a general process that has component steps which may include downloading, saving, running, etc. It is much like litigation: a person may want to “sue” somebody and then be confronted with verbs like “file” and “serve”.

    I have no clue if you actually wanted an explanation but, if you did, I hope this helps. As for a place to go, you could try or type “define: install” into Google. If all else fails, there are books at the local library that will cover common computer tasks.

  5. My problem isn’t that I don’t know the meaning of the word “install”, it’s that, even, in the illustration that Simon so kindly provided, it’s not obvious to me why I am given the choice between “running” the programme or “saving” it. If I always do one, why am I forced to choose? If I have a programme that installs the new one, I can relax; it’s when I either don’t have an “installer” or don’t know if I have one that I am confused.

    Ryan says that I should choose “run”; the Microsoft advice, on the website Simon referred me to, says “save”. Now do you see why I am confused? Surely, there’s only one action which will “install” the new programme. If not, on what basis do I choose?

  6. Angela, you’re right. It is mighty confusing unless you’ve done it so many times you ignore all the words that accompany the acts. And there’s no doubt that writing a manual for a program is as difficult as drafting legislation. I’ve hesitated to give you this advice before, but since it would seem that you’re not in the hands of your IT team, it’s likely you’re talking about home computing: get a Mac. Installing a program is as easy as dropping the file into the Applications folder.

  7. “Ryan says that I should choose “run”; the Microsoft advice, on the website Simon referred me to, says “save”. Now do you see why I am confused? Surely, there’s only one action which will “install” the new programme. If not, on what basis do I choose?”

    as Billy indicated, “You have a choice of either [installing] immediately or “saving” the installer to run later.”

    so, to try the analogy one more time – you want to get cable installed so you call up the cable company and ask for service. your doorbell rings immediately with the cable installer at your door. he can install the cable for you right away (= ‘run’). however, you have guests coming for dinner in half an hour and would really prefer that he come back tomorrow.

    lucky for you, he’s willing to park himself in his cable van outside as long as required (he loves the overtime pay). so, as long as you sign on the dotted line, he’ll hang around until you’re ready for him to do the installation (= ‘save’). then, when you are ready, you can notify him to start (= run the program from wherever you saved it).

    so, that’s the analogy. as for why you would choose one or the other, some installations require you to have higher-level administrator permissions, or require a computer restart which may be inconvenient at the time. by saving the installer file, you can decide when it’s best to run the installer and install the program.

    the other reason to save the file is to make an archive copy of it, so that if your computer goes awol, you can re-install the program without going back to the original source.

  8. Also, if you save the program, you can then scan it for viruses before you install it.