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Don Watkins

What Have I Gotten Myself Into? - A Download Primer

By Don Watkins



January 1999--Millions of words have been written on the richness of material available online--and I agree absolutely. I never fail to be amazed with the variety of products, information, and just plain stuff.

One of my favorites online goodies are downloads. Demos, shareware, public domain programs, whatever--I rarely have a problem that I can't find a program to solve it with.

Like many online functions, downloading and processing ZIP files seems rather mysterious and not entirely intuitive. Fortunately, as soon as you grasp the details, it's one of those computer functions that makes perfect sense and easy to use.

A ZIP file is one that's been created using the ZIP compression protocol developed by Philip Katz. It's made up of one or more files that have been compressed and combined into one file. The result is a file that's smaller to download and easier to manage, but that requires some offline processing in order to extract the various files in the ZIP file, as well as decompress them.

You'll find a number of different unZIP programs. My personal favorite is PicoZip. PicoZip is shareware and is available for download here.

PicoZip is distributed as a Windows self-extracting file. To run it, use either the file/run function or click on the file name or icon. The Setup Wizard will take over and guide you from there.

Like people, no two disks are the same, so the following aren't hard and fast rules. They're general suggestions that you may want to consider for processing downloads.

Once you start downloading files, you'll find that it's easy to become inundated with files that are included in the download, but aren't something you necessarily need to keep around. Worse, the names are often similar. If you're not careful, it's easy to end up with multiple files with enigmatic names like Readme.txt, Readme.1st, File_ID.diz, and so on. Also, if you try a program and decide you don't want to keep it, all the extras make it a bit more difficult to erase. Here's a suggestion to simplify the management of downloaded files.

Set up a folder to serve as a holding area (mine is named C:\download) for downloaded files. Create another folder for extracting ZIP files contents to (mine is called C:\temp). Configure your unZIP program to extract the files to this folder. Using a dedicated extract directory has several advantages. If you want to run a virus scan on the files, they're all in one place. You can look over the package, check any Readme.1st files (a common filename containing instructions on installation). Usually, you can also run the setup program from here.

Once you've run the setup.exe program and established the program in its own folder, you can delete the contents of the \temp folder. You should still have the original ZIP distribution file in your \download folder should you need it for any reason.

As you work with downloaded files, you'll probably come up with your own ideas for how you want to handle things. We all have different ways of working and customizing your computer is the best part of the "personal" in personal computer, so don't be afraid to experiment.


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