Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

When purchasing software in a store you get a box and a CD or DVD. If you download your software you should take extra steps to save your purchase.

I recently purchased a new computer and was not able to transfer programs that had no CD's; programs that I had downloaded from the net. Can I download a program onto a CD and then use that CD to install and retain a copy for future use?


In fact I do it regularly, and I recommend it strongly.

And it's pretty easy to do.

The important thing to realize is that there's nothing really special about a downloaded program; it's just a file. And like any downloaded file you can copy it, burn it to a CD, back it up, or do whatever you want with it.

I've spoken about this before, but when I download a program from the net, I rarely just "click the link" to get the program. Instead, assuming the link is to a ".zip" or ".exe" file that I'm about to install on my computer, I right click, then click on the "Save Link As..." (or "Save Target as..."):

Save As... dialog for downloads

In the image above you can see that I'm downloading Process Explorer in the form of its zip file to my "My Documents" folder.

After I've downloaded the file and before I do anything with it, I copy it to a backup location where I keep all of my downloaded programs. In my case it's on another machine on my home network, but it could be anywhere.

You could, if you so desired, choose to fire up your CD burning software at this point and copy or burn the downloaded program to a CD. I do, but I typically wait until I've got a CD's worth of programs saved up. That's a little over 600 megabytes worth. Once I do, I burn them all to a single CD at once.

My preference is to make my backup copies right after downloading. I get in that habit so I don't forget once I start playing with whatever nifty new download I just got.

Regardless of where or when you make your copies, just make sure they're in places that won't get lost if you need to reformat your machine. That's one reason why burning to CDs is a good choice. Then, if you find yourself reinstalling all the software after reinstalling Windows, you'll have everything you need.

A couple of additional things to remember:

  • This isn't a substitute for good backups. In fact, if you have a really good backup process, you may still have those old downloaded programs somewhere in your backups. Having a separate copy in a known location, however, is a much more convenient way to keep them, making them much easier to find when the time comes.

  • Don't forget updates. Much of the software you download these days automatically updates itself. In some cases you can ignore them, and the first time you use your old saved copy it'll take the updates. In other cases you may want to skip this step by simply copying each program update, if you can, just like you copied and saved the original download.

Article C3138 - September 4, 2007 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?


Terry Hollett
September 8, 2007 4:24 PM

I admit I'm somewhat of a download junkie. My method is to copy my downloads to a rewritable CD (CDRW) and when the CDs become full I copy them to my hard drive and then burn them of on a CDR. Then I erase the CDRW and start all over again.

I like to keep the games and programs separate. I also have a separate one for personal saved documents. I currently have 21 program CDs and 36 game CDs (thats burned of) and thats not counting the 'commercial bought ones'. I'm also somewhat of a packrat, I don't like to delete anything.

LeRoy Laycock
September 9, 2007 8:42 AM

I have a Folder entitled "Downloaded Files", with two sub-folders entitled "New Downloads" and "Installed Downloads" I download into "ND" and attatch a note to the folder with a Utility called "Explorer Notes" [available FREE from PC World downloads] with a 20-word explanation of the program. These may set here for months before I install them or delete them. When I install a program, I then move it to the "ID" folder. Now, from either the "ID" or "ND" folder, I can save to CD as desired.

September 10, 2007 11:25 PM

There is also a possibility to back up your programs to internet-server, LAN or remote FTP server. It prevent the data loss that may happen due to CD disk failure. I use this backup program: It can also make a backup spanning multiple CDs.

December 13, 2007 8:38 PM

leo, i'm having trouble with a very slow pc, i contacted dell tech. and they log on to my pc looked it over and said i need toremove & reinstall windows which they will do for me. my prob. is they told me i should save programs i have added, they reccomended saving to cd-r which i have plenty of but do not have a clue how to do, can you help explain what to do in simple words?? i would be forever grateful for your kindness. dell is suposed to get back with me in two days, thanks again even if you can't help.

June 19, 2008 12:14 AM

how can i delete internet downloaded software because they disturbes my pc

August 29, 2008 8:58 PM

I appreciate your helpful website. I've heard of Iso image file & wasn't sure if you had to save downloaded program files into such a special format on cd. This article resolve my concerns, at least about this. I do wonder WHEN you DO NEED to convert a file to an iso image file before saving it on cd? thanks

March 10, 2013 11:43 PM

View this site to reveal more about how to buy an essay paper and make the best of our splendid company when it comes to cheap custom writing service.

Comments on this entry are closed.

If you have a question, start by using the search box up at the top of the page - there's a very good chance that your question has already been answered on Ask Leo!.

If you don't find your answer, head out to to ask your question.