Harley Hahn's
Internet Advisor

Chapter 9...

Downloading and Installing Software

The Internet is the largest library of software in the world, and there are a vast number of programs available to you for free: programs to use for fun, to help you with your work, and to increase the utility of your computer. In this chapter, I will show you how to locate and obtain free programs from the Internet. These skills are important, as you will always have a need for new software.

Before we can cover these topics, however, we need to lay some groundwork. To start, let's take a few moments to discuss the various type of files you are likely to encounter on the Internet, and how your browser recognizes them. From there, we will discuss certain types of programs, called plug-ins and controls, that can be used to expand the capabilities of your browser. Then we will discuss free software: how to find it, and how to install it on your computer.

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File Types and Extensions

Web pages can contain different types of data: HTML, pictures, sounds, video, and so on. For this reason, it is important that, when a file arrives from a Web server, your browser be able to tell what type of data is contained within that file.

In Chapter 4, I explained that every file name has a suffix called an extension that indicates the type of data contained in that file. For example, if you see a file named harley.html, you know it contains HTML (that is, a Web page), because you see the html extension. If you see the file harley.jpg, you know it contains a picture, because of the jpg extension.

The table in Figure 9-1 (copied from Chapter 4) shows a list of file extensions and what they mean. There are many more extensions in use than you see in this table, but these are the most common ones on the Web.

Figure 9-1: The most common file extensions used on the Net

Extension Pronunciation Meaning
html"h-t-m-l"Web page
htm"h-t-m"Web page
asp"a-s-p"Web page generated in special way
gif"giff"; "jiffPicture stored in GIF format
jpg"jay-peg"Picture stored in JPEG format
txt"t-x-t"; "text"Plain text
zip"zip"Compressed collection of files
exe"e-x-e";"exyExecutable program
wav"wave"Sound/music file
mp3"m-p-3"; "em-peg"Music file
mid"midi"Music file
mov"move"Video (movie) file

— hint —

Within a file name, the . (period) character is pronounced "dot".

Thus, the name harley.html is pronounced "harley dot h-t-m-l". The name harley.jpg is pronounced "harley dot jay-peg".

File extensions are used by every program, not just by browsers. In fact, file extensions are so important that Windows keeps a master list. Each item in the list describes a particular type of data, its file extension, and the name of the program that handles that type of data.

To see the master list of file types:

  1. Start Windows Explorer. (Click on the Start button, point to Programs, then click on Windows Explorer.)
  2. Display the Folder Options. How you do this depends on your version of Windows. One of the following should work:

    • Pull down the Tools menu, select Folder Options.
    • Pull down the View menu, select Folder Options.
    • Pull down the View menu, select Options.
  3. Click on the File Types tab.
  4. Within the box named Registered file types you will see a long list. Take a minute and use the scroll bar to look through the list just to see what's there. Don't change anything.
  5. To close the window, click on the Cancel button.

This list is important because whenever you need to do something with a particular file, Windows must be able to know which program handles the type of data contained in that file.

For example, say you are using Windows Explorer and you double-click on a file named harley.html. This tells Windows you want to process the file. In technical terms, we say that you are asking Windows to "open" the file.

To do so, Windows looks at the extension, html, and then checks the master list of file types to see which program processes html files. In this case, it would be your browser, so Windows launches the browser program (if it is not already running) and sends it the file harley.html. In other words, by looking at a file's extension, Windows can tell which program should be used to open the file.

Can you see how powerful this system is? Windows can figure out what to do with any type of data simply by looking up the file extension in the master table and launching the appropriate program.

As you use the Web, your browser has similar responsibilities. Every time a file arrives from a Web server, your browser must figure out how to process that file. First, your browser looks at the extension to see what type of data is in the file. Certain types of data can be handled internally by the browser itself, for example, html, gif and jpg files. Other types of data (and there are many other types) require the use of a separate program.

Thus, your browser needs its own master list of file types, in order to be able to look up an extension to find out which program should be used to process the data in a particular file.

For example, files with an extension of mov contain Quicktime movies (short movies that use the "Quicktime" format developed by Apple Corporation). On its own, a browser cannot display mov files, so whenever such a file is encountered, the browser must call upon another program to process the data.

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Opening a File

Within Windows, the expression "opening a file" has a specific technical meaning that is not at all intuitive, so I want to make sure you understand it.

To OPEN a file means to process the file in an appropriate manner. Most of the time, Windows opens a file by sending it to a program. For example, if you tell Windows to open a file named harley.html, Windows will send the file to your browser. The browser will then do whatever is appropriate for html files. If you were to open a file named, say, notes.doc, Windows would recognize it as a document and send it to your word processor program. As I explained in the previous section, Windows knows what program to use by looking at the extension of the file.

In one important case, however, Windows opens a file differently. When a file has a name with the extension exe, it indicates that a file contains a program (exe stands for "executable program"). Windows opens such a file by starting the program within the file. We say that Windows RUNS or EXECUTES the program.

So how do you tell Windows to open a file? There are several ways. First, within Windows Explorer, you can open any file by double-clicking on its name. You can also right-click on the file name (which will pop up a menu) and select Open from the list of choices.

For example, if you double-click on the name of a file that contains a program, Windows will run that program. If you double-click on the name of an html file, Windows will send that file to your browser. If you double-click on the name of a doc file, Windows will send that file to your work processor.

You can also open a file by double-clicking on an icon. For example, the icons on your desktop all represent files. When you double-click on an icon, Windows opens the file "behind" the icon.

You can also start various programs by clicking on the Start button and making a selection. Most of the choices you see are actually icons that represent files. Thus, when you select an item from the Start menu, you are really telling Windows to open the file associated with that icon.

Thus, there are several ways to open a file. You can double-click on the name of the file within Windows Explorer; you can right-click on the name of a file and select Open; you can double- click on an icon on your desktop; and you can select an icon from the Start menu.

What's in a Name?


The word "open" actually has two meanings.

In a formal sense, "open" refers to the action of Windows processing a file. Thus, we can say that Windows opens a file either by running it or by sending it to another program to be processed.

Informally, we also use the word "open" to refer to what we do when we tell Windows to open a file. For example, I might tell you, "You can open a file by double-clicking on its icon." Of course, you don't really open the file yourself, Windows opens it.

The distinction between these two meanings of the word "open" is subtle, but real, and it serves to illustrate one of the reasons why computer systems seem confusing to beginners.

Many of the technical words we use (such as "open", "file" and "folder") look like everyday words, but are not. Within the world of computers, such words have exact, technical meanings that are anything but intuitive. Moreover, we often talk in such a way as to blur the distinction between ourselves and the computer.

— hint —

We are shaped by our tools more than we like to admit.

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ActiveX Controls

All browsers need auxiliary programs to process the various types of data the browser cannot handle by itself. With Internet Explorer, this job is done by what is called a CONTROL.

In the world of Microsoft, a control is a type of tool used by programmers. Each control is designed to perform a specific function. When a programmer builds a program, he or she can use controls as building blocks.

For example, say a programmer is creating a program that must display a dialog box to ask the user a question. Instead of programming this himself, the programmer simply uses a standard dialog-box control. Conceptually, he just plugs the control into the program wherever he needs to display a dialog box.

In Chapter 12, I will discuss ActiveX, a programming system based on Microsoft's family of programming tools. ActiveX is an elaborate system that can be used to create all types of programs. In particular, the controls are used to enhance the capabilities of Internet Explorer within the ActiveX system. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as "ActiveX controls".

— technical hint for nerds  —

On the Web, ActiveX controls are used to provide the same functionality as Java applets.

In technical terms, a Java class is interpreted byte code that runs within a "sandbox of functionality" provided by the Java virtual machine. The sandbox limits what a Java class can do, which (in principle) prevents it from causing damage.

ActiveX controls are not restrained in this way, and, hence, can cause damage under certain conditions. This is why ActiveX controls are seen as more of a potential security threat than are Java applets.

Whenever Internet Explorer encounters a Web page that requires a control you don't already have, you will see a message like the one in Figure 9-2. All you need to do is click on the Yes button, and the control will be downloaded and installed on your computer automatically.

Figure 9-2: Dialog box: downloading an ActiveX control

If you would like to see all your Web-related ActiveX controls, look in the following directory:

C:\Windows\Downloaded Program Files

You can do this directly, by using Windows Explorer to look at the directory. Alternatively, you can use Internet Explorer as follows:

Within Internet Explorer...

  1. Pull down the Tools menu and select Internet Options.
  2. Within the Temporary Internet files section, click on the Settings button.
  3. Click on View Objects. You will now see a window showing you the various controls.

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Programs and Downloading

DOWNLOADING means copying a file from a remote computer to your computer. Once you know how to find and download software from the Internet, you will have access to virtually all the programs you will ever need.

The programs we have discussed so far — the ActiveX controls — are used to augment the capabilities of your browser. These programs are relatively simple in that they more or less install themselves. Most programs, however, are more elaborate, and before you can use them, you will have to carry out a sequence of specific actions. We will discuss the details in a moment, but before we do, I want to talk about how programs are distributed on the Net.

Almost all programs consist of multiple files, and to use a program, you need all of its files. For example, a program might require 15 different files in order to perform its job.

It would be a lot of bother to have to download 15 files, one at a time. You would have to initiate 15 separate download operations, and make sure that all 15 files ended up in the right place.

To solve this problem, all the files needed for a particular program are gathered together into a single large file called an ARCHIVE. It is the archive that is stored on the Internet and made available for downloading. Thus, no matter how many files a program may require, you need only download a single file, the archive.

Within an archive, files are compressed so as to take up less room. Thus, the size of an archive is less than the size of all the files together, which means it is faster to download the archive than it would be to download all the separate files. Once you have downloaded an archive, you need to uncompress and restore the original files. We call this UNPACKING the archive. (We will talk about the details later in the chapter.)

Within the collection of unpacked files there will be an INSTALLATION PROGRAM. The job of the installation program is to do everything necessary to make the software ready to run on your computer.

Thus, to download and install a program from the Internet, you follow these steps:

  1. Find the program you want.
  2. Download the archive for that program.
  3. Unpack the archive.
  4. Install the program.
  5. Delete the archive and the unpacked files

Once you get used to it, this 5-step procedure is simple. Since this is such an important procedure, modern browsers have built-in capabilities that make it easy to download and unpack an archive, and then run the installation program with a minimum of fuss.

There are a number of large Web sites that act as software repositories, and these are the best places to get free software. Most of the programs will be either FREEWARE (completely free) or SHAREWARE (try the program for free and pay money only if you decide to keep using it). I use these Web sites a lot, either when I am looking for a particular program, or when I have a few spare moments and I would like to try something new just for fun.

Many companies that offer freeware or shareware versions of their programs also offer commercial versions that cost money. These versions will have more features, but in my experience, you usually don't need them, so always try the free version first.

— hint —

Be aware: some companies that offer shareware and commercial versions of their programs purposely design their Web sites to trick you. You go to the site looking for the free version, and it looks as if you have no choice but to pay for the commercial version. (I have a friend, a beginner, who was tricked in just this manner.)

My advice is never to pay money for a program you have not tried. On the Internet, just about every type of program you might want is available as freeware or shareware.

What about safety? When you get software from one of these sites, is there a danger of downloading a program with a virus? The answer is no, so don't worry about it. (See Chapter 12 for the details.)

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Downloading a Program

Once you find a program to download, you will reach a point where you click on a link and the downloading will start. The first step in the process varies slightly depending on your browser. Some browsers (such as Internet Explorer) show a dialog box similar to the one in Figure 9-3. You are offered a choice to either run the program or save it to disk. For now, make sure Save this program is selected, and then click on the OK button. (We will discuss the other option later.)

Figure 9-3: Beginning a download with Internet Explorer

Ultimately, you will end up with a dialog box similar to the one in Figure 9-4. You are being asked to specify where to save the downloaded file. Just specify the directory (folder) where you want to save the file, click on the Save button, and your browser will start the downloading process. Once it finishes, you are ready to install the program.

Figure 9-4: Specifying where to save a downloaded file

Before we continue, let's talk for a moment about where you should save the file. I have a friend who has often had a problem installing new software. She would download the archive and then not be able to find it. (This is easier to do than you might think.) You can avoid this problem by putting all your downloaded files where they are easy to find. My suggestion is to use Windows Explorer to create a directory called Download, and to use this directory for all your downloaded files. (If you are not sure what a directory is, take a moment to review the discussion in Chapter 4.) In Figure 9-4, you can see I am about to save a file called tpe32324.exe into my Download directory.

I want you to think of this directory as providing temporary storage only. Once you have finished installing a program, you can delete all the files in the download directory. There is no point keeping an old archive. If, for some reason, you ever want to reinstall the program, you can download the archive again. In fact, you will sometimes find a newer version of the program.

— hint —

In Windows, the names you choose for directories and files are not case sensitive: you can mix upper- and lowercase letters. My suggestion is to use the following conventions.

For directory (folder) names, use a single uppercase letter followed by lowercase letters, for example, Download.

For file names, use all lowercase letters, for example, tpe32324.exe.

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FTP and Anonymous FTP

When you download a file from a Web page, there are two different systems that might be used: HTTP (the same as is used to download Web pages) or anonymous FTP (see Chapter 2). Either way, it doesn't matter much to you, because your browser knows what to do. In fact, the only clue that you are using anonymous FTP might be the letters ftp within the name of the computer from which you are downloading (say, ftp.microsoft.com).

FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is used throughout the Internet to copy files from one computer to another, both uploading and downloading. When you use FTP, the remote server requires you to identify yourself by specifying a user name and password. Anonymous FTP is a variation of this system that provides public access, for example, to download programs.

With ANONYMOUS FTP, the user name is always anonymous, and the password can be anything. Traditionally, people would use their mail address as a password, to allow whoever was maintaining the FTP server to know who is using the service. For privacy, however, your browser does not give out your mail address in this way.

As I have described, when you download files from a Web site, the procedure is mostly automatic. I only mention anonymous FTP here, because it's interesting to know a bit about what is happening behind the scenes . For more details about FTP, see the discussion in Chapter 2.

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Installing a Program

Once you have downloaded an archive, you are ready to install the program. However, before you do, you should take a minute and look at the Web site where you got the archive to see if there are any installation instructions. If so, you should read the instructions before you install the program.

A moment spent reading the instructions can sometimes save you a lot of bother. For example, I have a friend who went through the entire process of downloading and installing a particular program. It was only after the program was installed that she read the instructions and found that the program would not work on her system.

Most programs come with a README FILE, usually named readme.txt. This file contains information that you should read before you use the program. You will often find that most of the information in the readme file is highly technical and not relevant to you. Still, you should spend a moment skimming this file. If, during the installation process, you are asked if you want to look at the readme file, always say yes. With some programs, the readme file is available on the Web site where you got the program. If so, read the file before you start the download. With other programs, the readme file will not be available until after the program is installed.

Generally speaking, there are two types of archives. The first type is, in itself, an executable program. You can tell because the file name has an extension of exe, as with the file named tpe32324.exe that I used as an example earlier in the chapter. With such archives, it is easy to start the installation process. Just use Windows Explorer to navigate to your download directory, and double- click on the archive file. Windows will start the program for you.

In most cases, once the program starts, everything is automatic. It will unpack itself and run the installation program. All you have to do is follow the instructions. When it is finished, you can clean up by deleting the archive.

— hint —

Many programs will put an icon on your desktop as part of the installation process. This is only for your convenience. If you don't want the icon, you can delete it so as to reduce the clutter.

There are three ways to delete an icon on your desktop:

  • Click on it and press the Delete key
  • Right-click on it and select Delete.
  • Drag the icon to the Recycle Bin icon.

The second type of archive is a ZIP FILE, so called because the file name ends in zip, for example, harley.zip. Zip files are not executable: you must unpack them yourself. This process is called UNZIPPING the file.

When you unzip an archive (that is, a zip file), you end up with a collection of files. Within these files will be an installation program (usually called setup.exe or install.exe). Run this program to carry out the installation procedure. After the installation program is finished, you can delete it, along with the rest of the unpacked files and the archive.

To unzip an archive, you need a ZIP FILE PROGRAM. (Sometimes such programs are called COMPRESSION UTILITIES, because the zip format is used to compress files.) There are many zip file programs available, some freeware, some shareware, and some commercial. I suggest you take some time now to select and install a zip file program. Once you start downloading software from the Net, I guarantee you will run into zip files, and it is best to have your zip file program ready.

When you install a zip file program, it registers itself with the Windows master list of file types as being the program to handle all files with the zip extension. From then on, whenever you tell Windows to open a zip file, it will automatically start your zip file program.

Thus, to install a program that comes in the form of a zip file, follow these steps:

  1. Download the zip file.
  2. Use Windows Explorer to navigate to your download directory.
  3. Double-click on the zip file to start your zip file program.
  4. Use the zip file program to unzip the file into the download directory. (Your program may refer to this process by another name, such as "extract".)
  5. Once the file is unzipped, look for and read the readme file.
  6. Run the installation program. (If you don't see an installation program, look for instructions in the readme file.)
  7. After the installation is complete, delete the files in the download directory, including the zip file.

— hint —

Some zip file programs come with special features to automate the installation process.

For example, a zip program can look inside the zip file archive for files named setup.exe or install.exe. If the zip program finds such a file, it will display an Install button. Just click on this button, and the installation will start automatically.

— hint —

You will be able to find a freeware or shareware zip program. There is no need to pay for a commercial version.

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Installing a Program Automatically

I mentioned earlier that some browsers offer you a choice when you download a file. Take a look at Figure 9-3. Notice that you can either run the program or save it to disk. If you select "run", your browser will download the program to a temporary location on your hard disk, start the program, and wait for it to finish. Once the program is finished, it will be deleted automatically.

Using this option can make the installation process a lot simpler. If the archive is in the form of an executable program (an exe file), you will not have to worry about saving it, running it, and deleting it. Everything will be automatic.

If the program is in the form of a zip file, the "run" option will cause Windows to start your zip file program, which you can then use in the regular manner.

Some people prefer to save a program or zip file to their download directory, and then run the program themselves. This gives them more control over the installation process. Try it both ways and see which option you prefer. Personally, I like to save the zip file.

— hint —

With large programs that take a long time to download, it is better to save the file before you run it. That way, if something goes wrong, and you need to rerun the program, you won't have to wait for it to download all over again.

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Uninstalling a Program

If you have a program you don't want to use any longer, you can get rid of it by UNINSTALLING it. To do so, you must follow a specific procedure — do not simply delete the directory in which the program resides. Most installation programs make changes to your system that are hidden from you. These changes must be reversed when you uninstall the program.

— hint —

Before you uninstall a program, make sure it is not running.

The best way to uninstall a program is by using the Windows Add/Remove facility. The steps are as follows:

  1. Click on the Start button. Select Settings and then Control Panel.
  2. Double-click on Add/Remove Programs.
  3. This will start the Windows install/uninstall facility.
  4. Scroll down the list of installed programs and find the name of the program you want to uninstall. Click on the name and then click on the Add/Remove button. This will start the uninstall process.
  5. When the uninstall is complete, click on the OK button to close the window.

If the program you want to uninstall is not in the Add/Remove list, look at the directory in which the program is installed. If there is a readme file, look in it for uninstall directions. (To read the file, double-click on it.) If there are no uninstall directions, look for a special uninstall program (such as uninstall.exe). If you find one, run it.

Sometimes an uninstall program will not remove all the program files. If so, you will have to finish the job yourself.

When the uninstall program is finished, use Windows Explorer and check if the directory that held the program still exists. If so, it is safe to delete the directory and its contents.

Similarly, if the uninstall program did not remove the program's entries from the Programs folder on your Start menu, you can do so yourself. The Programs folder resides at:

C:\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

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