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Monday, March 26, 2001
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Download, but donít be reckless
By Raman Mohan

THE Web is an endless source of free software, games, graphics, fonts, sounds, videos, and almost anything else you can think of. So much so that you could find a lifetime too short to grab all that it has to offer. Carefully chosen downloads can enhance your computing abilities in two ways. One, it gives you programs that make the work easier and pleasurable. Two, downloading enriches the awareness of computing and the Net itself.

ILLUSTRATION BY GAURAV SOODBut careless downloading can easily turn your delight into disaster. Careless downloading means reckless downloading for the sake of experimentation. It is fraught with danger. Reckless downloading and installation of freeware can make the system crash. Always think twice before deleting or uninstalling software in favour of the newer downloads. Even if the system does not crash, it will certainly slow down perceptibly.

We must remember that each software we install alters the Windows system registry, which only a few of us can fix. Before you can realise, it can grow into a monster sitting atop a large chunk of space on the hard disk. More importantly, these changes can adversely affect other important programs since many of the files are shared. Cleaning registries continues to be a grey area despite many registry-cleaning programs available and uninstalling too does not always remove all entries. So we need to learn the art of careful and selective downloading.


What can you download?

Basically, there are two reasons why an average computer user needs to download. The first is obviously to grab useful freeware, shareware, cardware or demoware, so on and so forth. The other reason, which is more important, is to get upgrades for the main software. These also include the latest drivers for your hardware. There can be other reasons, like games, but the basic principles of downloading apply to these also.

Before you can begin downloading, you need to be well equipped. You must first download the latest version of WinZip or similar compression and decompression software since most of the files you will download are zipped files, which youíll need to unzip or decompress to install. The other important tool is an autodownloader that can speed up downloads and resume the download from where it was interrupted due to a disconnection for any other reason.

There are plenty available free on most of the popular downloads sites. These include Gozilla, GetRight and ReGet. The latest GetRight4.5 Beta version is the most preferred utility. It can speed up downloads by dividing large files (1 MB and above) into two or three segments which are downloaded simultaneously reducing the downloading time. The less time it takes to download a file, the cheaper it is. It has resume feature and like other similar programs it automatically looks for mirrors and FTPs. You also need ensure that all your downloaded files are virus-free. You should, therefore, configure the autodownloader to scan every downloaded file automatically with your anti-virus program.

Being selective

A pre-requisite for sensible downloading is to have a clear head between your shoulders.

You should know what you want. That done, you should take care to look for authoritative sources. Prefer software reviewed on site or in credible computer glossies. The software libraries of ZdNet.com, shareware.com and downloads.com are considered among the best. Use the filters provided by these sites before you search these libraries. It is no use ending up with software for Mac, Linux or UNIX in the list when your platform is Windows9x/ME/NT/2000. Also do not search for share or demoware when all you need is freeware. This will reduce the listings and you will be able to choose easily. Remember, preventing information overload should always be at the back of your mind whenever you enter the World Wide Web.

Some pitfalls

Look for various categories of downloads available on these sites. For instance if you are looking for utilities go straight for this category instead of searching the whole library. The same goes for educational, Internet, business and other freeware. A word of caution is required here. Do not decide upon a freeware download unless you have read the reviews. See the screen shots. If more details are offered for viewing at the authorís homepage or developerís Web site, go to it and ensure that this is the download you really need.

No amount of screening can, however, eliminate chances of your downloading freeware, which you upon installation find it is meant only for residents of the USA. For instance many e-mail tools, which appear so enchanting, work only with American ISPs and there is hardly a way you can know that before hand. The same goes for many Net speed-boosting programs.

Others can on installation change the addresses of your servers in your mail client rendering it non-functional till you are able to correct the problem by configuring it again. Not everyone can do this. So be careful about such freeware. It is better to send a query to the developer confirming if the freeware will work in India.

Freeware v shareware

Which is better? Freeware, shareware, demoware or limited period trial versions? Most experienced down loaders prefer freeware. It is no use giving shareware a try when you cannot pay for it to use its full features or for that matter a limited period trial version, which you cannot keep after a month. You can always find a freeware to meet all your needs. All you have to do is keep looking for it.

We now come to downloading updates for your main software. Your best bet here is

CNet Downloads.com where you will find a page CNet catch-up. Here you can let the Catch-up scan your computer online for whatever you have installed. Having scanned it, the site will give you a list of available updates followed by a choice of downloading these now or later. Other sites also offer similar facility.

Most software companies also release add-ons periodically and these are free to download. You can search for these on popular download sites where these are listed by category. This is the single most important use of the download facility as it keeps your main software up to date.

Managing your downloads

Once you get used to download, you will soon find you cannot locate the file you had downloaded on your system. The remedy lies in creating a separate folder for downloads by that name. It is better to keep this folder on a different drive if you have a large hard disk. Some people suggest you delete the source file you have downloaded to keep this folder manageable.

If you download carefully, you need not delete the source file. You will then not need to download it again in case you have to reinstall your OS for some reason or have to format the drive. As with other software you use, keeping the downloaded source file on your system is not a bad idea at all.

Most of the downloadable files have a short and confusing names. If you retain these names you may not be able to identify it by that name. So it is a good idea to rename the file exactly by its full name when the Save As screen pops up before the autodownload begins.

Installing the downloads

Once you have the downloaded file in your downloads folder, the next step is to install the freeware. As a rule, every welcome screen of the installation wizard warns you to close all your open programs. Most of us either do not read it or do not know how and which programs to close. Closing open programs means closing Windows applications you may be running at the time. This can be done in two ways. One, you can use the Control-Alt-Del command to see which programs are running and then choose the ones that need to be closed. If you have these running, the installation could later cause error messages to pop-up in the downloaded application or other applications because of unavailability of required files at the time of installation.

Useful download sites

  • ZDNet.com

  • Downloads.com

  • Shareware.com

  • TweakPC.com

  • Tweakfiles.com

  • Nonags.com

  • Shellcity.net

  • Softseek.com

  • Anydownloads.com

  • Tucows.com

  • Programfiles.com

But what if you do not know which programs to close you should download a small freeware called Enditall from www.tweakfiles.com . It can close all applications, which need to be closed while at the same time keeping the other programmes like Systray and Explorer running. This is the safest way to install a freeware or for that matter any software.

One last word. If you use a lot of freeware, you must thank the developer by sending amessage and reporting bugs, if any, or by briefly describing what you think of the program as the case may be. Thatís the least we can do for all those who strive to make our computing lives easier at no cost to us.

A toolkit for downloaders

  • Zip tools Ė WinZip80, WinZipSE, PKZIP/UNZIP

  • Autodownloaders Ė GetRight4.5 Beta Version, Gozilla, ReGet, FlashGet.v0.95

  • FTP tools Ė CuteFTP, FTPMagic v4.0

  • Anti-virus Ė Norton2001, Innoculate PE

  • Offline browsers - Webstripper v.1.42, WebWhacker2000 v.

  • Chat tools Ė ICQ, Cheetachat, mIRC v. 2.01



Some doníts for downloaders

  • Donít download too many screensavers/ skins/themes

  • Donít download too many fonts

  • Avoid different programmes with similar function

  • Donít download two files simultaneously

  • Avoid distant sites, prefer mirrors

  • Donít download on slow connection

  • Donít download large shareware/demos

  • Avoid games as far as possible

  • Avoid freeware without uninstall function