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My secrets of Internet downloading, Part 3
technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
Simple gray rule

My secrets of Internet downloading, Part 3

Bit Player for Dec. 27, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

In the first two installments on downloads, I told you how and where to save files you get off the Internet. This week I'll fit the last piece into the puzzle-what to do with downloaded files when you want to make use of them.

Downloads come in many flavors. Some of them are single files that have been kept in their normal condition. Examples include images and sound files. To open them (to display them or listen to them, in order words), you just double click the file. The rest are multiple files that have been compressed into single files. They need to be handled differently.

Files of this kind are packaged in a single container file to keep them together until you're ready to deal with them. By far, the most common way of packaging files is the "zip" method. Files that are "zipped" have zip as the last three characters of their name.

To extract the contents of a zip file, you need a program that unzips the file. The most popular Windows zip-and-unzip software is WinZip. You can download it from An alternative comes with Microsoft's Plus! 98 software. So if you have Plus! 98, you don't need WinZip. (Install the "Compressed Folders" option in Plus! 98 if you haven't already.)

Both WinZip and Microsoft's Compressed Folders let you double click a zip file to open it. But don't do it that way. Use a feature that both programs have by right clicking the zip file and choosing the Extract option. This feature, common to both programs, lets you specify a new folder to hold all the extracted files. Both suggest a suitable name for the new folder.

The extraction usually won't take long. When it's done, you'll have both the zip file and a folder containing everything that was stored in the zip file. Don't delete the original zip file. You should save it in case something goes wrong. Move all your downloaded zip files into a storage folder. (Call it "Zips" to make things easy. Make sure you move the zip and not just copy it. If you drag the file while holding down the Shift key, Windows will always move it.)

If you followed the directions in the first two articles, after the unzipping you'll have a new folder in your download folder. That new folder will be named for the zip file. Open that folder and you'll see whatever it holds. If you see a text file with instructions, double click it to read it. If there is no documentation, double click a file called "Install" or "Setup" to install a downloaded program onto your computer.

Besides zip files, you'll find at least one other kind of packaged file, referred to as a self-extracting file. You don't need WinZip or Compressed Folders to work with this kind. But take my advice and always right click on downloads like this to see if WinZip or Compressed Folders will recognize the file as a container file.

Many of these self-extracting files are actually zip files that can be extracted to folders just like regular zip files. If they can't be, just double click the file and the program will start installing itself.

For more help in understanding downloads, go to the section of my Web site that has articles on the Internet. The address is You'll see the articles in the current series and many others.

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