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Organizing downloads, Part 2

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Organizing the files you download off the Internet, Part 2

Technofile for June 1, 1997

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

Files you download off the Internet arrive in your PC in four basic forms. You need to know how to handle each of them.

This week, I'll explain how to tell the difference between one kind of download and another, and I'll show you how you can use a couple of power-user tricks to keep downloads under control. (If you haven't read last week's article on where to put files when you download them, read it on the Web at or visit the Syracuse Newspapers site at, where these columns are mirrored.) These tips are specifically aimed at Windows users, but Mac fans should be able to pick up some help, too.

Downloads fit these categories:

    • Files that are ready to use, such as images or sounds.

I won't have any tips for files of this kind. Just move them to your normal storage folders.

    • Files that are compressed into a single setup program. Under Windows 95, downloads of this kind usually have their own unique icon. Double-click on the file and follow the directions that appear.

A tip: You nearly always have a choice of where the program installs itself. Using the selection box that appears on the screen, navigate to the main folder you use for programs, then type in the name of a folder for the program you are installing.

After the program is installed, go back to the folder where the original installation file is stored and move it to a temporary folder. (Use a common temporary folder for all downloads.) You should save downloads for a week or two—or for a lot longer if you have enough disk space—so you'll be able to reinstall programs that get messed up.

    • Files that are compressed into a single, self-extracting archive. Don't double-click on this kind of file unless you've followed the advice I gave last week and placed it in its own folder. I'll have more to say about this pesky type of download next week, in the last article in this series.
    • Files that are simple archives—many files compressed into a single container file—that need to be extracted using a separate program. This kind needs some explanation.

The file compression I am referring to works a little like a suitcase. Instead of carting an armful of socks and shirts and all your other clothes when you travel, you squeeze them into your suitcase and carry it. To someone who just arrived from Mars, you'd seem to be carrying just one thing.

You can do the same thing with files, packaging them into a single container file for the trip from one computer to another. Paul Katz developed the most common method of making container files, or archives, on PCs. He called it ZIP. (You may have used or seen a reference to "PKZIP". Now you know where the name comes from.)

ZIP files usually have a period followed by "ZIP" at the end of their names. (You may not be able to see the period and the "ZIP" extension under Windows 95 because of the way it usually hides filename extensions.)

When you download a ZIP file, you need a separate program to extract the contents of the archive. For traditional users, the best ZIP extraction program is WinZip. You can download a self-extracting version of WinZip—one that does not require a ZIP program to set it up, in other words—from Users who would rather not be bothered with extracting ZIP files should download ZipMagic (from It shows ZIPs as folders and is my personal choice. Both are inexpensive programs that you can try out for free.

Extract the contents of the ZIP file into a separate folder, then move the ZIP file itself into your temporary holding area. That new folder will contain all the files that had been compressed in the archive. Look for a file called "Setup" or one called "Install" and run it. (If you don't see either one, look for a text file that explains how to install the program.)

I'll tell you how to deal more specifically with programs that don't have their own installation routines next week.

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