Updated: I should mention that Microsoft has released a similar feature in the latest IE 7 betas (RSS Screensaver). It doesn't appear to me that either company was particularly influenced by the other in this regard.
While we're on the subject of (browsers and) AOL Explorer: there's a new beta available (version 1.5 - its an early beta, so no promises :)).
It introduces a few (new) nice features, in clean, clutter-free way. In particular, I like the the RSS Screensaver - its one-click activation, and actually pretty cool - Not earth-shattering, or anything, but nice. Just click "Install Screensaver" in the "Feeds" panel (on the left sidebar of the browser) - I think you'll be pleased at the utility and value, especially if you're on Broadband.
I find, though, the label of the button to be all wrong - confusing AND misleading (and WRONG :)). In this case, the Screensaver software is already on the box (as a part of the AOL Explorer install), it just gets set as your current screensaver.
And although the button is on the "Feeds" panel I don't think the action is clear, contextually.
I'd have preferred to have it be a checkbox that said "Show my Feeds as a Screensaver." (or something; and then have it work much like the "Check if default browser..." feature works).
So why does it say "Install Screensaver"?
Well, we felt that "Install Screensaver" best captured the percieved literal (if there is such a concept) result of the action. Especially with all the (justified) sensitivity to Spyware, etc., we didn't want to make it feel like we were hijacking anything on the end user's machine and I agree with the rationale.
Still - I feel like we've sacrificed clarity in the name of user advocacy. It may feel more true, but I think its less right, and less helpful.
The internal debate about this centered on this question: what does "installation" mean anymore?
Surprisingly, we run into this a lot - especially in a rights obsessed world - for advocacy, privacy, and legal reasons. The heart of the question, I think is: what separates applications from content? (The implied idea, in this case, being that apps require install; content does not - there are other issues about distribution rights that bite us in this regard).
Easy: a webpage is small, so no install required, and a Doom 3 level is big, and so requires an install.
But, keep in mind the RSS screensaver in AOL Explorer (executable code) is smaller than the Amazon.com homepage - do we really mean to imply we can skip the "Install" moniker for small applications? Probably not - Spyware can be written to be QUITE small - usually is, in fact.
Perhaps, then, "install" is for stuff that is COMPILED executable code? But what about a Java applet? Or a dot NET application the runs on the Microsoft CLR? Or Flash Applets (which indeed compile Actionscript to bytecodes)? Aha - perhaps it needs to be NATIVE executable code ... but, (to continue the abstraction) what if you're running in a Virtual PC session? Are you really "installing" anything in that case? After all, its ALL just "content" to a virtual machine.
Maybe the distinction is that if it "touches" anything on the OS, and by extension the "physical" PC, (i.e. violates some preconcieved notion of "sandboxing") then it is not content - its an application, and therefore requires install?
I guess for now, "Install" is like "Pornography" - I can't tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.
And in the meantime, we (software industry "we") can continue to confuse our users in the name of protecting them.