Last week, we looked where you can find software on the Internet; this week, we'll look at how to download it.
Normally I wouldn't go into this much detail in this current series of articles, but hey, I get way too many letters about dysfunctional downloads. Let's run through the basics first.
When you ''download'' a program, you're retrieving a collection of files, not just one, from a computer on the Internet. This collection of files has usually been previously compressed or, as they say on the Net, ''zipped'' such that the collection appears to be a single file, a sort of electronic form of freeze-dried food. When the remote computer successfully transmits to your computer, you usually have an individual file sitting somewhere on your hard drive. At that point you have to reconstitute, or ''unzip'' the file, which restores the collection of components in a form your computer can read.
Unzipping may be accomplished automatically when the file you have downloaded incorporates its own decompressor, in which case the file will end in ''.exe''. Alternately, the file ends in ''.zip'' and you may need to have installed a separate program that decompresses on your disk.
Then, and only then, can you install the program on your computer, usually by clicking on an icon labeled ''setup.''
Quite a few things can go wrong in this procedure. You may not have a file decompressor on your computer. Thus some downloads, the ones with built-in decompression, will open up nicely, while others that rely on an eternal decompression program just sit there.
Downloaded files tend to have wacky names, like bmx433.zip, names not easy to remember. Thus, unless you pay close attention to where the file is being saved, you may forget where it was saved to disk. It ends up, effectively invisible, in an obscure subdirectory.
A variation on this problem is when the file unzips itself. Again, depending on the degree to which you are paying attention, you may inadvertently click on an option that decompresses the file instead of saving it to disk. It doesn't matter if you know the name of the file; when it reconstitutes itself into multiple files, you have a problem, since you don't know the names of all the pieces.
Once again, the stuff you need, though it is there, may have disappeared into an obscure directory.
First off, you need to have a file decompression program. A good, free one is Aladdin Expander, available at www.aladdinsys.com. If you want to look at other options, check out compression utilities at www.tucows.com.
Second, create a folder that stores your downloaded files. Put it on your desktop, or in your My Documents folder, so it is easy to find. Any time you download a file, don't open it automatically. Instead, when you're prompted to save it, create a new subfolder specifically for the download at hand inside this download folder. That way, when you reconstitute the file, the components will have a predictable place to go.
That's all general advice, but there are some variations depending on the type of software you have.
About half the world is using America Online. AOL, proprietary service that it is, has its own stash of shareware. Type the keyword ''software'' and you'll be taken to the service's own download site.
AOL has its own download directory located inside the main AOL folder; Click on ''My Computer,'' go to the C: drive, then the AOL folder, then the download folder that rests inside it. Your stuff is there. You can also get to it via the ''Personal File Cabinet'' option under ''My Files'' on the main AOL screen.
Most of the time AOL will decompress your files automatically when you sign off. To see if you have this option turned on, pick My AOL from the top menu, then Preferences, then the Download icon. If ''Automatically Decompress files at signoff'' is selected, files will extract to a subdirectory (sub-folder) of your download location that has the same name as the file itself. You'll still have to go into that subdirectory to install the downloaded decompressed files, however.
Now, you may run into problems when you venture outside the closed environment of AOL. If you use its built-in Web browser, a version of Internet Explorer, you can go to any of the download sites on the Internet that we told you about last week. However, these files won't end up in the regular AOL download folder unless you place them there.
Rather, you'll get a prompt asking whether you want to save the file to disk or open it immediately. You should opt to save it to disk, at which point you'll be presented with a directory window that lets you decide where you want to save it. This is when you put it into the download file you created earlier. AOL's built-in decompressors don't work with files you grab from the Web, so you'll have to install a separate decompression program.
I've had lots of problems downloading files with Netscape Communicator. Sometimes the program issues a prompt asking where you want to save the file. Other times it does not. Sometimes it uses a built-in ''download manager,'' which is supposed to make downloading easier by allowing you to resume interrupted downloads. About all I can tell you is, be careful, and note the names of files you download in case you have to use Windows' ''Find'' function to track them down. Microsoft Internet Explorer is more predictable, and if you follow the directions outlined here for using a download folder, you should not have any problems.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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