Dealing with downloaded files

Question: We have tried to download a scanner program from Acer Peripherals. It downloads fine, but then, there are all these icons and we do not know where to proceed from there. In the meantime, we have a scanner that is useless to us. Can you help? —G.F.

Answer: Downloading is one of the great mysteries of the modern world, but it sounds like you’re doing everything right. You simply need to double-click the downloaded file. It will unpack the file into several more files and look for the file named setup.exe. In this case, there are two files called setup. Right-click each and select Properties to see the full name with extension. When you find setup.exe, click on it twice and follow the instructions to install the scanner software.

More about unpacking files in a minute, first—for the benefit of others—let me go over the black art of downloading for those who may be new to the concept.

Downloading is the act of moving a piece of computer data from a source outside your computer. It equates to copying, although “downloading” specifies a direction. Downloading brings data to your computer. Typically, it’s used with reference to a network. Data is “downloaded” from a network—or grouping of connected computers—such as the Internet.

The opposite of downloading is uploading. That means copying a file from your computer to somewhere else.

Think of your Aunt Bessie and a Dairy Queen milkshake. The shake downloads through a straw from one of those waxed cups into her mouth. Your bratty cousin Berty on the other hand is the embodiment of uploading when he sprays his milkshake through his straw onto your mom sitting across from him at the table. In the event that you witness anything like this, keep in mind that few will understand you if you point out that your mom’s dripping bouffant hairdo—recipient to the uploaded beverage—reminds you of an Internet server.

In our reader’s situation, she’s trying to download a file from a website on the Internet onto her computer. She successfully pulls that off by locating the file and clicking on it once.

What happens next depends on which Web browser is being used and what type of file is being downloaded.

Web browsers are set up to detect the type of file being used. They know to display files with HTML or HTM or ASP extensions as Web pages. An extension is the three letter code after the period in the file name.

When a user selects a file with an EXE or ZIP extension, by default, the browser knows to download the file to the user.

Netscape Navigator will automatically prompt a user to specify a folder to save an EXE file to. Microsoft Explorer asks if it should execute the file (“Run this program from current location”) or save it to the user’s computer (“Save this program to disk”).

When either browser encounters a ZIP file, it prompts the user to either run the program or save it. The preferred option is to save the file, because then you can specify where to store it. I always create a new folder on my Windows desktop and tell the browser to save the downloaded file there. That way it is separate from any other files on my computer. To save a file to the desktop, when prompted by the browser with the Save As dialog box, click the Up one level button repeatedly until Desktop appears in the Save in field. The Up one level button looks a file folder with an arrow in it. It’s near the top of the Save As dialog box.

If you tell the browser to open the file, it will be dropped into a temporary directory and then run automatically. The problem with running a file from a temporary directory (usually C:WINDOWStemp) is that downloaded files usually need to be unpacked before they can run.

Programs that come from the Internet are usually made up of a variety of parts. For simplicity’s sake, they are rolled into one file—bundled up like clothes in a suitcase. When the suitcase arrives, it needs to be unpacked. If the file has an EXE file extension on it, unpacking is simple. Put the file in its own folder, where it won’t interfere with any other programs on the computer, and double-click it. All the files inside the EXE file will come piling out. ZIP files are somewhat different. A ZIP file is an archive. It also contains files that are compressed to make them really small. You’ll need a program like WinZip StuffIt or IZArc to unpack the files. WinZip can be downloaded (in EXE format) from IZArc is available from the TechnologyTips Software Library and is freeware. The other program mentioned, StuffIt, is a commercial program that you can buy here.

Here’s one final note. If the file being downloaded is a program, look for the file setup.exe to install it. If that doesn’t exist, look for a file named and open it with a word processor or text editor. It will have instructions in it that will explain how to deal with the downloaded file.

Of course, there will be always exceptions to these rules. INF files are usually driver files. Windows will look for an INF file when it’s told to update a driver for, say, a video card, or a printer. SIT files are Macintosh Stuffit files. They are the Mac’s equivalent of ZIP. There are a variety of other extensions that you might encounter. For more information about file extensions see: “The meaning behind file extensions“.