How Is Desktop Software Different From an App?

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The term "desktop software" refers to software that:

  • Runs on a Mac, Windows or Linux desktop computer that is set up for use in one place—such as a desk. This is where the name originally comes from, back before computers became portable. The laptop computer can also use desktop software since they run the same operating systems as the less portable desktops.
  • Must be installed on your computer. The installation is done from a software CD, DVD or other media. Desktop software can also be found online and downloaded as a file that is saved on your computer. This file is then run on the desktop (or laptop) computer to install the software.
  • Runs as stand-alone software. That is, it does not require a web browser or internet connection, although some features in the software may be limited or unavailable without access to an internet connection. Desktop software typically does not require any other desktop software to run.

Desktop Software Installation

The desktop software installation process is usually initiated from a disk, such as a CD or DVD; however the installation files can be stored and run from other media (such as a USB drive), or the process can begin from a downloaded installation file.

Installation of software usually requires you to have administrative rights on a Mac or a Windows administrator account, and it requires you to follow setup instructions and grant permissions for the installation process to make changes to your computer in order to run. The process may request permission for other aspects of the installation, such as where the software files are to be stored on your computer. Unless you are an advanced user or have a specific reason for making changes to the standard software installation, you can usually accept the default settings presented during setup to simplify the process.

Desktop Software Versus Mobile Apps

iPads, iPhones, Androids and other types of mobile devices often have versions of popular desktop software products that are designed specifically for those mobile platforms. These are referred to as apps or mobile apps.

Apps are installed on your tablet or smartphone through a download process that is managed by the device's operating system. The operating systems on mobile devices—iOS for Apple products, and the Android OS on Android devices—have significant differences from desktop or laptop computer operating systems, so the installation process itself is different. For example, you don't select a location on the device to install the app.

App versions of desktop software are usually streamlined and may not have all the features that are available in the full desktop versions. This is usually because of the limits in storage capacity on mobile devices, and because some features may not perform well on a mobile platform with a touch interface, or on smaller screens.

Unlike desktop software, mobile apps are generally designed to utilize the internet to some degree, though some can run without an internet connection.