One of the things I often hear when I ask a new user what they want to learn about their computer is, "I want to learn how to download."
Of all the things people can do with their machines, downloading seems to be a concept that's shrouded in mystery. We hear about it all the time, "just go to www.whatever.com and download your copy today." or "I just downloaded an update to my anti-virus software; my machine should be well-protected now."
What exactly do they mean by downloading? How come no one ever explains it? Well, it's one of those concepts that, for the most part, is 90 percent automatic. That's why there isn't much written about it for the end user.
Let me explain. Whenever you visit a Web site, any picture, sound, text, etc., displayed is stored on the computer that hosts it. When you access the Web site, all of that stuff is transferred from their computer down to yours, so it can be displayed. Since this transfer is going from the Web site down to your computer, the data is said to be downloading.
So basically, every time you access a Web site, you are automatically downloading lots of stuff.
The direction the data flows is what makes the difference between downloading and uploading.
Data that comes down from the 'net to your machine is considered downloaded, while data that leaves your computer and goes up to the 'net is considered "uploaded."
When you send your mail, the data goes from your computer, up to the mail server; it's uploaded. When you get your mail, it comes down from the mail server; it's downloaded.
Now, when typical stuff is downloaded from a Web site, it's usually displayed as it is being downloaded (back in the days of dialup, the pictures would seem to slowly form before your eyes).
The confusion about downloading comes from those times when the file you are trying to access is something other than a file that can be displayed as it comes in. In these cases, you have to save the file to disk and then access the file manually.
This isn't as complicated as it may first seem. When you encounter a file like that, typically a "save as" dialogue box opens and the computer wants to know where on your computer you want to save the file. This is logical; the machine needs a place to store it as it comes in. Some browsers will be set up to automatically save things to your Downloads folder while other browsers may have to save things manually. Save it to the desktop or create a folder specifically for it on the hard drive but, regardless of where you save it, you need to note what folder it is being saved in and what the file is named. That way, after the download is complete, you can use navigate to that folder and double-click the newly downloaded file.
The next thing that tends to cause confusion is what happens when you download something that your machine doesn't know how to open - for instance, say you just downloaded a .pdf file but you have no .pdf reader installed on your computer. Then, when you go to open it, the computer displays a message asking you what program to use! This can be very intimidating if you don't understand the message but you know what? The download worked fine! The file did indeed transfer from the internet down to the computer; the computer just doesn't know what to do with it and is relying on you to tell it what program to use. (Not sure what program to use yourself? Here's a hint - take the three letter extension (in this example .pdf) and ask google "what program opens .pdf." Google will then come up with a list of what programs will open your file).
Another area of confusion comes from things that automatically downloaded - things like antivirus or Windows updates are often downloaded in the background so there is usually little (if anything) that you have to do but, since everyone knows how important updates are, people can get stuck trying to figure out how to download things that are already taken care of. The trick there is learning how to verify that automatic downloads worked the way they are supposed to have.
Well, that's downloading in a nutshell, I hope this helps!
Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at (888) 752-9049 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (no hyphens).