In no other area of life do we have such a painful and mysterious procedure.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

How to manage downloads

March 13, 2011

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, The Post-Standard

Downloads are the downfalls of us all. In no other area of life do we have such a painful and mysterious procedure.

Apple tried to simplify downloads a decade ago when it introduced the Mac's "DMG" files -- disk images that store, in their secret recesses, a bunch of files and folders that make up the software program you want to install. This invention was a failure. It has only confused Mac users.

Microsoft tried to simplify downloads at an even earlier time when it came up with "CAB" files and then "MSI" files. They work the same way as Apple's DMG downloads, more or less, and they're just as much of a failure.

And then there are "ZIP" files. Geeks and nerds know what this means, but the rest of the world is mostly clueless. Yep. Can you say the word "Fail?"

It's time to stop this madness. Apple is leading the way with its new Mac App Store, and Microsoft seems to be interested in the same thing. The advantage of an app store, as iPhone and iPad owners already know, is simplicity: You look at the description of a software program (an "app," or "application") and click an icon if you want to install it. That's all. There's nothing else you have to do. The app is sent to your computer and placed in a launcher on your desktop.

In the meantime, unless you're a Mac user who plans to get all your new programs from the Mac App Store -- not very likely, given the vast array of Mac software on download sites and the paltry showing so far at the Mac App Store -- we have to keep dealing with the headaches of downloads.

Here's my five-step method of dealing with downloads.
1. Create a Downloads folder if your computer doesn't already have one. Right click inside the Documents or My Documents folder and make a folder from the popup menu. And, yes, the mouse on a Mac has a right click. Just be sure to turn it on (called the "Secondary" button) in System Preferences.

2. Make sure your downloaded files actually go into your new Downloads folder. How do you do that? In your Web browser, right click on the link for any download and specify your new location in the browsing window that shows up. Your browser should remember the location for all future downloads.

3. After the download is finished, go to that folder and double click on the downloaded file, whatever it's called. If you're using Windows, you'll probably see an installation file with instructions that show up on your screen. If you're using a Mac, you'll probably see an application that needs to be installed. You do this by dragging it into your Applications folder. (Yes, you'll have to find your Applications folder -- double click your Macintosh HD icon to see it -- and drag the program over.)

4. Look for the newly installed program in the Start Menu if you're a Windows user or in the Applications folder if you're a Mac user. If you can't find it, look again. Make sure it's there before you go to the final step.

5. For Windows users, go back to the Downloads folder and drag the downloaded file into the Recycle Bin. Mac users have two steps: 1. Look on your desktop for the DMG file that held the new application and drag the DMG file to the trash. 2. Go to the Downloads folder and drag the downloaded file into the trash also. Make sure you do NOT run the new application from the DMG file. That can't happen if you follow the steps here.

Now do you see why an App Store is such a good idea?