The Dread Download
by Alan Zisman (c) 2001
strike such fear into the hearts of many new Internet-users as download.
(Perhaps the fear is equalled by the phrase email
attachments. This tutorial will try to help allay
some of the fear.
the fear is due confusion. The word gets missused
frequently, confused with the somewhat similar process
of saving a file. Here's the difference. When
you create a file on your computer, in your word
processor or some other application, you save the
file on your
computer's hard drive (or to another disk). You can
similarly save to the drive on another computer connected to
yours with a network. And when you are viewing a web page,
you may choose to save the page onto your computer. You're still
saving a document that you have been viewing.
using the Internet, you may choose to transfer an already-made file to
your computer, saving it on your computer's disk without loading it
into an application like a word processor or a web browser. In that
case, you are downloading the file. The reverse is
also possible-- you may upload a file from
your computer, storing it on an Internet server. (You need to
get permission to do this).
saving a file
and downloading a file have a couple of things in
indicate a location for the finder, preferably a folder
that you will be able to locate later. Often, your web browser
(or word processor) will point to the last place someone
saved/downloaded to. Pay attention! This might not
location that you want to use.
accept the default name for the file, but you can also change it into
something you're more likely to remember. PC users need to be sure that
they don't mess around with the 3-letter file-extension, if this is
visible. Changing it will make it more difficult to load your file into
the correct application.
In fact, the
dialogue box in your browser when you download a file
will be virtually identical to the one. Here is the Windows 95/98
version, in Netscape (Internet Explorer is similar).
1. List of files and folders in the current location.
2. Drop-down arrow to move to a different drive or folder
3. Icon to create a new folder in the current location
4. The default file name, highlighted so you can type to change
5. Click the Save button or press Enter
Mac users have
it easy! Recent Mac browser versions automatically
download files to the desktop, and automatically open compressed
files in Stuffit Expander. Very slick!
practising saving/downloading files to different locations,
then finding them again using My Computer (Windows
95/98/NT/2000), File Manager (Windows 3.1) or the Mac
-- Many people find it
handy to create a folder on the Desktop (the
computer screen when no programs are running), perhaps naming it
something like Downloads (How original!). A very
nice feature in
Windows 95/98/etc is the ability to do this right in the
Save dialogue box...when you click the down-arrow near the
top (#2 in our picture), you'll find the Desktop at the
top of the list. Click on it to go there (we're already there in
our Windows 95 picture), and click on the New Folder button (#3) to
make a new folder, and type in the name of your choice. Then
double-click on that folder to open it. (If you see its name in
the Save in: box on the top, you're inside the
feature: Both Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer
last place you saved a file, and will go back there the next time you
want to download/save a file.
feature: While your file is downloading (which can take a
while), you can browse to another web site, close your browser, and
even open other programs unless you're using an older computer that
is too wimpy to do more than one thing at a time. But now for the
Now that you've got the
are you going to do with it?
there's no simple answer to that. But first, you have to do two
-- Locate the file
saved it. (See why I suggested putting it into a
folder on your Desktop or right onto the Desktop
-- Double-click the
will open it, load it into an application, run it (if
it is an application).
should see one of these things happen:
If the file is a
document, and if you have an application that
can deal with those kinds of documents (and if you
a Windows user, the document has a filename that ends with the
correct 3-letter extension) then it should open up in an
application—a word processor document in your word processor,
an MP3 music file in a music player, a video clip in a video
player, etc. On a good day, this will work as expected.
If the file is
an application, it will run. Often, what appears to be
an application is, in fact, a self-extracting archive.
This is a way to send a collection of files in a single package,
while making it relatively easy to open them up. Windows
archives will have file-names ending with .exe
(which is also true of normal applications), while Mac self-extracting
archives will usually have file-names ending with .sea.
The Mac ones will usually simply create a folder in the same
location as the original file (usually the Desktop). Then look in
the file for the contents—you'll often see a program
Windows users double-clicking on a self-extracting Exe file
may simply start the installation process. In other cases, they
will often see something like this:
case, they are being prompted to select a destination
folder for the compressed contents—the default (this
time), is a file on the Windows Desktop called Guess.
Clicking the Unzip button will accept this,
or they could Browse to a different destination.
Pay attention to where you are choosing to send the files (just like
when downloading!) so that you can find them again.
The file may be
a compressed archive (not self-extracting).
Like self-extracting archives, these allow you do receive a
set of files at once, and save you some time because they are
compressed. With these files, you will need a utility to uncompress
them, restoring them to their original format. Windows compressed
files are most often zip files, and have a filename
in zip. Mac compressed files may have filenames
in bin, hqx, or most commonly sit.
files are most often opened up using the shareware WinZip.
Shareware programs can be freely downloaded (in this case, from http://www.winzip.com/),
but on the honor system should be paid for if you're going to
continue to use them. WinZip costs US$29 to register. A free
alternative is PowerArchiver
can be downloaded from http://www.powerarchiver.com/download/powarc61.exe.
Either program is relatively easy to use—as long as you pay
attention where you unzip the contents. Note that the latest
version of Windows, Windows ME can automatically unzip zipped
files without any extra software.
archives can generally be opened with the free Stuffit
If you have a Stuffit Expander icon on your desktop, just drag
and drop the compressed file onto it, and it will be automatically
expanded. A copy of Stuffit Expander is included with recent
versions of the Mac operating system. But lest you think that
everything's so easy with the Mac, there are a couple of things
to be aware of about Stuffit Expander:
of Stuffit Expander are unable to open archived files
made with newer versions of the software
of Stuffit Expander are unable to work with some other
types of Mac archive files
don't have any version of Stuffit Expander, and you
go to the alladinsys website to get the newest
version, you'll be unhappy to discover that you
need a copy of Stuffit to open the new version that
you download. Catch 22!
When you open up
the compressed file, you should get either one or more
documents, an application (ready to run), or the installation
or setup file to install a program onto your hard drive. Once
again, double-click on the likeliest looking file, and something
ought to happen!
when you double-click on a file, you may get an error message
asking you what program to use to open the file. You might (in
Windows) see something like:
this, Windows doesn't recognize the three letter extension, and is
asking you to pick a program from the list to use to open this file. If
you know it's a graphics program, you could scroll down the list until
you find the name of a program that you usually use to open graphics
files. Give it a try.
the Other button lets you browse your hard drive to
for a specific program, if it isn't in the list.
Always use this program… option that is checked by
default—you may want to uncheck it if you aren't sure if the
you're picking can, in fact, handle this type of
users may also encounter this problem if they receive a document
from a Mac-user. Since Macs don't rely on three-letter file extensions
to identify files, they often don't add them to the end of save
filenames (Windows programs, and some Mac programs add the extensions
automatically). If that happens, try to find out program they
used to create the attachment. And remember, Windows users can't
run Mac programs, and Mac users can't run Windows programs.
What about e-mail
lot of the same things are true with e-mail attachments. Once you
get one, if you know where it's located, you're in the same ballgame
as dealing with files that you manually chose to download. The biggest
trick is knowing where you put them. And how that happens depends on
your e-mail program. Some programs, such as the popular, free Eudora
Windows or Mac, lets you set a folder for your attachments
where they will automatically be saved. Eudora places an icon for
your saved attachment at the end of the e-mail message. Clicking
on it will open the file (with all the same issues we discussed
There are a lot of
complaints about IBM NetVista mai (used in Vancouver
schools, among other places)l, especially with the way it deals
with attachments. Some of them can be dealt with. For example, when
you receive a message with a paper clip in the top right corner,
indicating that there's an attachment, and you click on the paper
clip, you will see a dialogue box like the Windows Save dialogue
box shown way up above—letting you indicate where you want to
attachment. Again, you can navigate to a different folder (and
probably should, since saving in the NetVista folder, its default,
is a very poor choice). Just remember where you saved it (and what
its name was), and practice your navigation skills to locate that
folder. Again, saving into a Downloads or Attachments folder on
the Desktop will make it much easier to find your file later. And
when you double-click on it, all the usual things will happen.
mail has an especial annoyance. Whenever it receives an HTML-formatted
message, (like whenever you get mail sent by a VSB administrator using
their standard Netscape Messenger mail program), it treats it as
an attachment. But it gives it a totally non-descript filename, and
(for Windows users) makes an incredible boo-boo. It doesn't
give the file any file attachment at all. As a result, when you
locate the file and double-click, Windows doesn't know what to do
prevent this, when you get an idiot-name no-extension attachment
in NetVista, rename the file—and end the file name with a
and the three letters htm. When you locate the
will load it into your browser, where you'll be able to view it.
better solution is to dump NetVista mail entirely, replacing it
with Eudora or Netscape Messenger (free with the Netscape Communicator
suite) or Microsoft Outlook Express. See my online tutorial on life
without NetVista: http://www.zisman.ca/replace/
and other malicious software programs are real. And while
the first generations of viruses were mostly spread on floppy
most current viruses spread themselves as email attachments, with a few
(Trojan Horses) being spread by programs that you may be tricked into
number of recent infections have spread themselves by taking over
a user's e-mail address book. This happens most often to users of
Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express. The result is that you may
receive what appears to be a message from someone you know, perhaps
telling you to check out the neat attached file.
you double-click on the attached file, you infect your own computer,
perhaps letting the virus spread itself to your friends and colleagues
through your e-mail address book.
are a number of things to do to help minimize the risk of virus
of opening e-mail attachments if you were not
expecting to receive them—even if they come from a
friend or colleague. File attachments that are
graphic files are relatively low-risk, while attachments
that are programs (Exe files) or Visual Basic Script (Vbs
files) are relatively high-risk. Microsoft Word documents
(Doc files) often spread so-called Word Macro viruses that
can infect every file you open in Word.
If you receive an
attachment unexpectedly, e-mail the sender, asking if
they meant to send you that message and attachment, and wait
for their reply before opening the attachment.
anti-virus program, set it to automatically scan downloads
and e-mail attachments, and (very important!) update
the program's virus definition files regularly. Monthly at a
minimum. Some good anti-virus programs are:
No matter what
anti-virus program you use, it will only be effective
if you update the virus definition files on a frequent basis.
Use your anti-virus
check your entire system periodically, and get in the
habit of scanning downloaded files prior to double-clicking on
them. (After installing an AV program, Windows users can do
this by right-clicking the file, and choosing to check it
with their AV program).
users are less-bothered by malicious programs than Windows users.
The highest risk are Windows users who are using Microsoft Word
and Outlook or Outlook Express. Computer systems used by teenagers
are often infected, as their young users frequently exchange files
without taking any precautions.
Zisman is a Vancouver
educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at