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What To Do With Downloaded Files

So you found this nifty new program that all your friends are talking about while you were surfing the 'net, and finally figured out how to download it onto your computer. Now how do you use it?

When you download free software or shareware, you're really at the mercy of whoever packaged the program. Fortunately, most authors follow one of a few common methods of distributing their wares, which involves bundling all the files related to their application into one big file and compressing it down to a smaller size.

The first type of file that results is usually a ZIP file (one whose name is anything.ZIP). To get anything back out of such a file, you need a program called PKZIP or PKUNZIP. Then, from a DOS Prompt, type the command

PKUNZIP anything.ZIP

If you have Windows 3.1, you may also want to check out WinZip; for Windows 95 users, get WinZip95. Please note that all of these programs are shareware: if you use them on a regular basis, you are expected to purchase a license to use the software.

Another kind of file you may find is a self-extracting EXE file. When you download it, you can run the program right away, but all you're going to see is a list of files being inflated, melted, extracted, or whatever, and then the program ends. These files are really exactly the same as ZIP files, but PKUNZIP is built into them, so you don't have to have a separate PKUNZIP to get the files out. PKZ204G.EXE is such a file.

Whichever type you have, once you extract all of the constituent files you have reached the end of the common instructions. The rest of the installation depends on who wrote the program. Look for a file called README, which is where the author will usually put detailed instructions on where to go next.

A new kind of EXE file for Windows programs is starting to gain popularity; one which is not only self-extracting, but it also automatically starts its own setup program. If you are fortunate enough to find such a file, you may have already discovered that you only need to double-click on it from the File Manager or Windows Explorer and just follow the on-screen instructions from there. Both WinZip and WinZip95 are examples of self-installing files. I would encourage all software publishers to make their downloadable files this easy!

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