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Sidestep the pratfalls when downloading files online

August 11, 1996


If there's any part of Internet access I would miss most if forced to give it up, e-mail tops the list. But running a close second is the ability to download programs while surfing the Net.

A number of sites on the World Wide Web are devoted solely to programs that can be downloaded and run on your computer -- free of charge.

This software usually falls into one of several categories:

  • Freeware: These programs are free for anyone to use. No payment is requested.

  • Shareware: These are free for a trial use. If you like it and want to continue using it, you must pay for the program. The fee is normally reasonable, and will entitle you to updates and customer support in most cases. Its a very successful method of software distribution.

  • Vaporware: Programs that are promoted and hyped, but never quite get to the market. You won't download these from the Internet, but if you look around much, you'll find someone promising some golly-gee-whiz software that'll be released ``soon.''

Getting this software from the Internet and into your computer may seem like a risky process; it isn't. Seldom have I had a download fail (unless I terminated it in progress). Downloading software from a Web site isn't very difficult, though the process can be intimidating to those unfamiliar with it.

THE LOW-DOWN ON DOWNLOADING. Within the environment of a Web browser such as Netscape, downloading is relatively easy. Once you identify the file you want to download and locate the proper clickable link, a download window will open on your computer screen.

A window opens up alerting you to the download; a horizontal bar will display the progress of the download, and a clock will give you an estimate of the time left for the download.

Note that you can continue to surf the Internet while the downloading takes place; but be aware that doing so often slows the rate of the file transfer (and your Web surfing will be noticeably slower as well).

You can also download more than one file at a time, but this too means a slower transfer rate than if files are downloaded individually.

One common problem with downloaded files is finding them once they're on your hard drive. The key to their location is this download window. Not only will it show the download's progress, but also the directory where it is being saved.

Your browser should prompt you for a location when a download begins. If you click OK and forget what directory they're in, you can watch the download window for the path and directory to the file being downloaded.

You can configure Netscape to prompt you before a download begins (if it isn't already configured to do this). This will give you the option of deciding just where the downloaded file should go.

Under the Preferences menu in Netscape, select Helpers and make sure that under the selections with EXE and ZIP extensions, it says ``Ask User'' for the action. Netscape will prompt you for a location for the file.

Once the files are downloaded, you can go offline to get your new programs setup and ready to use.

The EXE and ZIP files you download will most likely be compressed to save space. The EXE files are usually self-extracting. You simple run them from within Windows and the single program will be unpacked into all the files needed to install the program.

Likewise, the downloaded files in the ZIP format must be unpacked -- or in this case, unzipped -- with a utility called PKUnzip or WinZip, both widely available for free over the Internet.

You should be aware that these compressed files often expand into more than a dozen individual files, so you may want to move them into their own temporary directory before you uncompress them.

Once they are uncompressed, you can run the install or setup files which will complete the process, and in most cases, create a new directory and copy all the necessary files into a brand new directory. Nearly every program has a README.TXT file that will give basic instructions on what to do.

After installation is complete, the original compressed file and the uncompressed files in the temporary directory can be deleted -- after you are certain you won't need them again. Otherwise, you may want to hang on to them.

Try visiting a few Web sites and download some small files to get the hang of it. I recommend shareware.com (at http://www.shareware.com)or ZDNet (at http://www.zdnet.com).

E-MAIL SHOULD BE FREE. Juno may have hit upon a goldmine.

The company announced a couple of months ago through a mass mailing and advertising, that ``e-mail should be free'' when it began offering its free e-mail service nationwide.

While there's no such thing as a free lunch, Juno has come close -- yes, there's absolutely no charge for the software, no connect time charges, no access charges of any kind.

Juno makes its money by selling advertisements. The ads that show up in its e-mail interface are targeted by the information subscribers provide during the sign-up process.

And speaking of its interface, its very straightforward, very simple to use, even if you've never used e-mail before.

OK, its not exactly free; your computer must dial the closest Juno telephone number (which is in Louisville), and that's a long distance call. But remember, you that the software will dial the number, download your mail, upload outgoing mail, and quickly disconnect after doing so. In all, unless you have dozens of e-mail messages arriving every day, the process takes very little time -- in fact, I sent myself test messages, and in every case, the incoming and outgoing mail transfers took less than a minute.

This isn't complete Internet access; just e-mail, so if you want to surf the Web and use other portions of the Internet, Juno may not be for you. But if e-mail access is all you or someone you know needs, then it's at least worth a try.

For more information, visit Juno's Web site at http://www.juno.com. To get a free copy of their software, you can e-mail your name and address to signup@juno.com. Or if you don't have e-mail access now, call toll-free 1-800-654-JUNO.

NEWS YOU CAN'T REALLY USE. Readers familiar with this column have tolerated my rants about the wonders of all that information available on the Internet.

That's true, but there's also some that goes beyond the realm of news and into the ``More Than I Needed To Know'' category.

Two Web sites make my Sites of the Week list fit the bill for providing mostly useless tidbits of information. This is the stuff that won't get you a promotion in your career, but might help you make small talk with hardcore trivia buffs.

Deb and Jen's Land O' Useless Facts lives up to the site's name. For example, did you know the longest recorded flight of a chicken is 13 seconds? Or that grapes can explode if cooked in a microwave?

For a perfectly great waste of time, visit http://www-leland.stanford.edu/~jenkg/useless.html.

Amusing Irrelevant Facts is another Web site that revels in useless information. Point your browser to http://wildcat.dementia.org/jeffw/humor/useless-fact.html

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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