“Python Foot” graphic by David Day.
How To Install Python On Windows XP
Instead of being all things to all users, this little how-to assumes the following:
- You are a Windows user who is curious about computer programming;
- You would like to install the Python computer language on your Windows machine, start the Python interpreter, and run the classic “Hello World!” program.
This post dates to the days of Windows XP, but I update it every year or so. The instructions reportedly work for Windows 7 and 8, too.
If you have questions, like “What is Python and why should I install it on my Windows computer?” go read Why Python on Windows XP? Come back if you want to install Python.
Back already? Never left? Okay, proceed.
A company called ActiveState makes a free, all-in-one Python distribution that has everything you need to run Python on Windows.
I don’t work for ActiveState. I am not an affiliate. There is no affiliate id or code in the link I provide to their site. I get no fee or percentage from them. I am not a computer expert, nor am I a computer scientist, just a Python fan.
Ready? Assuming you have high speed internet, you are less than seven minutes away from having Python installed on your computer and typing your first command at the interpreter prompt. Go!
Open another browser window (so you can keep reading this one) by pressing shift-and-click on the: Downloads page of ActiveState’s ActivePython distribution.
Python works on Windows, Macs, and Linux so you’ll see a page offering distributions and versions for all. However, ActiveState can tell if you are using Windows, so you’ll see ActiveState’s recommendation for you in the two blue bars at the top of the list:
You will probably see two options:
- one for (x86) or 32-bit computer,
- and one for (64-bit, x64).
Which type of computer do you have? Shift-click on this FAQ to find out.
Unless you know you have a newer 64-bit machine, play it safe and click on the “x86” 32-bit version.
You’ll also notice newer distributions of Python listed farther down the page. For now, use the version recommended by ActiveState in the blue bars. You can come back later and install a newer distribution once you become a Python convert, but most tutorials for new users are still written for older Python versions, so be conservative for now.
When you click on the blue bar, Python should begin downloading.
Make a note of where you download this file on your computer. It takes a few minutes to complete the download. Pass the time by watching the “Bring Out Your Dead” scene from The Holy Grail.
Done? Okay, go find the ActivePython file on your computer.
As of this writing, the file you downloaded is called “ActivePython-(your version number)-(your windows version).msi.” It’s about 45 megabytes, which is half the size of the last driver I installed for my Logitech Mouse.
Double-click on the ActivePython file. (Windows may ask you to acknowledge that the software maker is unknown.)
Up pops the ActiveState box and tells you it’s going to install ActivePython. Click Next.
Up pops the Licensing Agreement. Check the Accept box. Click Next.
Up pops a dialogue box allowing you to customize the installation. Don’t customize it. Click Next.
See the button that says “Install”? Click it.
You’re done, and the ActivePython User Guide appears.
Now go to START | All Programs | ActiveState ActivePython (version number) (your-bit-number).
The menu will break out into submenus. You want the one that says: “IDLE (Python GUI)” Click on it.
You are now at the command prompt of the Python interpreter and ready to speak Parseltongue.
Your cursor will be blinking just to the right of a prompt that looks like this: >>>
Type the following command there and make sure that “Hello World!” is inside quotation marks:
>>> print "Hello World!"
Press Enter. You should see Hello World! appear in a different-colored font on the line below.
If so, you’re done!
If you get an error message that says: “SyntaxError: invalid syntax” then you either forgot the quotation marks or you installed Python version 3.0 or greater, which uses a different print command.1
You are inside the Python shell window (a.k.a. interactive interpreter) of the Python IDE (Integrated Development Environment). Leave the Python interpreter open, ready, and waiting to take your commands. Go to one of the following tutorials, which will teach you how to use the Python interpreter to learn Python:
- Learning To Program (if you’re in a hurry to type more commands into the interpreter, go straight to the “Simple Sequences” section of Professor Gauld’s justifiably famous tutorial).
- A Beginner’s Python Tutorial. Steven Thurlow wrote this simple, excellent tutorial for the modding community of Firaxis’ Civilization. Useful to beginners with little or no programming knowledge.
- A Tutorial For Non-Programmers Looking To Get Started With Python, a Wikibook by Josh Cogliati and several other contributors.
- How To Think Like A Computer Scientist, by Jeffrey Elkner, Allen B. Downey and Chris Meyers.
Once you become comfortable playing with the Python Interpreter, go to the BeginnersGuide/NonProgrammers page of the Python.org site and select more tutorials. There are plenty of good ones. All free!
Later, when you start learning to program and have more questions, visit the Python Users Group at Google Groups and search it. Chances are your question has already been asked and answered. Also, when you need help remembering commands, refer to this excellent Python Quick Reference sheet. And be sure to visit the beautiful, new, SEARCHABLE Python documentation page from the busy geeks at Python.Org.
If you prefer learning from a good Python book, try this one:
- Python Programming For The Absolute Beginner 3rd Edition, by Michael Dawson;
After you acquire basic knowledge in Python, you can move onto some other great books:
- The Python Cookbook, 2nd Ed., by Alex Martelli, Anna Ravenscroft and David Ascher, which provides “recipes” for common tasks you might like to accomplish using Python on your computer. For many people, this is the best way to learn code, by studying examples contained in programs that do useful work.
- Learning Python, 4th Ed., by Mark Lutz, commonly considered the most thorough introduction to the language for beginners, now out in a new 3rd edition that covers Python 2.5 and looks ahead to Python 3.0.
- Python: Essential Reference, 4th Ed., by David M. Beazley. This is the newest of the Python books and probably the best all-around Python book, but newbies may find it overly terse. Beazley wastes no words and has a tight, crisp writing style. If you are already familiar with basic programming concepts, but are new to Python, Beazley is your man.
In my most recent book, Rapture For The Geeks: When AI Outsmarts IQ, I argue that Python should be declared the Official Language of The Singularity. If you agree, cast your vote by leaving a comment below.
- Some visitors install newer versions of Python from the ActiveState downloads page. That’s fine. You can install more than one version and use different versions as you please. However, starting with Python 3.0, many commands are new and different. For example, the print command for Python 3.0 and following goes like this: >>>print (“Hello World!”). For this How-To, I recommend that you play it safe and install the version recommended by ActiveState. Most of the tutorials for newbies are still written for older versions of Python. But, hey, it’s a living breathing language, so if you like it, install and learn the newest version! ↩