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Should I Download My Software or Not?

Should I Download My Software or Not?

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GreenTech LogoAre you trying to decide whether to download your software donation from TechSoup, or to have the factory discs sent to you? Both have their benefits and drawbacks. Downloading is the green way to go, for sure, but it may not be appropriate for every organization. How long does downloading take? What do you do if you have problems? How can you get your software the quickest?

These are all legitimate questions that have real-world implications. Here, I've taken some of them to task to give you the information you need to decide whether downloading or physical media is right for your organization's needs.

Micorosoft DownloadPros to Downloading

  • Downloading Is Greener. According to the research, there's no question that getting your software electronically delivered is more than a 90 percent reduction in carbon emissions (think of all the processing, disc creation, packaging, shipping, and so on!) Read more about this in Jim's post The Environmental Case for Downloading Software.
  • Downloading Is Faster. Even if you're downloading a giant suite of programs and it will take half the day to get them installed on your machine, it's still a LOT quicker than getting all of it shipped to you (and then having to do all of the installing too). Think about it, even if you get the physical media by mail, you've still got to install it all which takes the same amount of time. With electronic delivery, you just don't have to wait for it to be shipped. As soon as your request is fulfilled, you can get your software without needing to leave your seat.
  • You CAN Make a Backup. There's a common misconception that when you download software, you've got no way to make a backup of your software. That's not true! You CAN make a backup of your programs and it's really no more difficult than burning a data DVD with whatever program is installed on your computer already. Read instructions on how to backup your software in Jim's post How to Burn Downloaded Software to a DVD.
  • It's Safe and Legitimate. Through TechSoup's secure site, your organization's account is safe. The products you download through our donor partners like Microsoft and Adobe are legitimate, secure, and licensed, so you don't need to worry about getting spyware, malware, or other viruses installed on your computer when getting your donated products through TechSoup. You can rest assured that your downloaded software is as legitimate as the physical disc.
  • Download Managers Make It Easier. Many of the donated products electronically distributed through our donor partners have download managers - or little programs or scripts - to help walk you through downloading your donations easier. These download managers give you step-by-step prompts so you know you've done it right.
  • Flexibility to Download on One Machine and Install on Another. Once you've received a fulfillment email confirming your donation and giving you product keys and fulfillment options, you can stay at your same computer to download your donated software - even if you intend to install it on a different machine. You can save them to a portable USB thumb drive and take that to the machine(s) where you plan to have the software installed. (Any installations of donated software, whether delivered on discs or electronically, should only be done on the number of machines for which you have licenses.)
  • Optical Drives Aren't Needed. It's more popular to buy laptops and desktops that don't have a traditional CD/DVD (optical) drive. That said, downloading software is ideal for those situations since you don't have anywhere to stick those physical discs anyway! 
  • No Outdated Media or Manuals. When you request electronic delivery of your donated products, you'll get the latest downloads which sometimes include recent updates or patches available. It will still be the version you requested, but you won't be reliant on what could be dated information in a pre-packaged item that may have sat on a warehouse shelf for months before it was shipped to you.
  • No Discs to Scratch, Break, or Lose. We've all been there and we've all done it. Losing or damaging your disc usually means you've got to just buy (or request) another one at your own expense. Though it varies from vendor to vendor, some downloaded products can easily be re-downloaded if the computer running it dies which means you only need to keep track of your license information (fulfillment emails are ideal) and can get rid of the big CD folder with nicked and dinged discs.

Microsoft Expression Web boxes by Flickr user Morten Rand-HendriksenPros to Receiving the Physical Media

  • Discs Are Familiar. Most of us are very familiar with opening up a plastic case and popping a disc into our computer. There's definitely value in doing things that are familiar. However, with more and more products out in the marketplace only being offered as download (mp3s, apps for your phones, and full software applications), it's highly likely you've already been downloading even if you haven't realized it.
  • There's the Box. And maybe a manual or other instructions enclosed. Sometimes they include some junk mail too. It all depends. But if you like to hold that shiny new box in your hand and see what info they include in it, then that's a pro for some.
  • Easy Backups on Hand. While some downloaded programs are available to users if their computer dies and they need to reinstall it later without their homemade backup discs, it varies from vendor to vendor. Many will allow you to re-download as long as you have the license keys, but the version you received may no longer be available for electronic delivery (especially if it's a couple of years old). Having physical media in your office is helpful for re-installing as long as you make sure you've kept the license information and discs somewhere where they won't be lost or scratched beyond use.
  • Fast Internet Needed for Downloading. If you decide to download your donation, you'll need broadband Internet access. A full suite of software like Microsoft Office or Adobe Creative Suite can take several hours, even with high-speed broadband Internet (3 Mbps+) so if you lack broadband or have a slow Internet connection, downloading is probably not be the best option for you. For files over 100MB we recommend a DSL or faster connection.
  • Sometimes They're Included. It's extra important to consider your options and carefully read whether your donation request is fulfilled by electronic delivery, physical media, or gives you the option to choose one or the other. Sometimes there's a difference in the administrative fee for one or the other. Not all donated products through TechSoup offer physical media, but for Microsoft, for example, there's no additional cost for receiving them when you request your donation. If you decide AFTER you've requested ESD (download-only) from Microsoft, then there's a fee of around $25 for the media.
  • Portability. If you manage machines in different locations, having the discs on hand can make them easy to install from machine to machine or location to location. The same can now be said of digital downloads housed on a USB flash drive, though, so physical discs aren't exclusive to keeping your software portable.

There are a lot of reasons people like one method over the other, so share yours in the comments below (log in and reply to this post). In the end, being aware of the differences and benefits of each can help you make the right choice for your needs. Just be sure to read carefully and choose wisely with your software donations - whether received as physical discs or electronically distributed to you - so that you can make the most of your donations!

Photos: Morten Rand-Henriksen

Becky Wiegand is the Webinar Program Manager at
@bajeckabean on Twitter

  • Unfortunately, my organization, Sustainable Opportunities and Solutions has had a "qualification pending" status for several weeks and no one will answer my emails asking how to clear this status.

  • Broken link on how to back up software on a DVD in the 3rd bullet point above.

  • Sorry about the broken link! It looked correct, but I redid it and it seems to be working now.

    BHorton2, I'll forward your message to our client services team to see it they can figure out why your status is pending. It *usually* means that they're waiting on some paperwork -- like proof of your organization's tax exemption status or something like that.

  • This is good information.  Can you back up your download onto a UBS?

  • Downloading Quickbooks in 2011 was a nightmare that consumed at least 40 hours of my time over a two week period. It downloaded alright, but I could not access any of the files. After multiple lengthy calls to QB, I finally had to download a Virtual Clone Manager (whatever that is?) and reinstall my software twice - once on my hard drive and also to DropBox. This time I ordered the discs, but I am getting a downloadable version again. I do hope it goes a bit better and that there have been improvements to this process in the last 3 years. dcurriebrsc