Originally Published Monday, March 20, 2000
Downloads, viruses are perennial PC problems
Often, in writing this column, it's necessary to recycle earlier topics. Reinforce, rather the recycle, better describes the need to revisit issues that are troublesome or are still elusive for some PC users. File attachments and virus inoculations are two subjects that continue to perplex many average users.
File attachments to e-mail messages need not be so befuddling, but you must know the type of file and where it is saved. I often hear from readers who've received files, usually pictures or documents, and complain that they either can't find the files or can't view them.
First, realize that when you receive a message with a file attachment, it will be downloaded to your personal computer. But where does it go? If you're an AOL user, it goes by default to C:\AOL\DOWNLOAD. That is the download folder under the AOL folder on your hard disk.
If you're using another mail program, such as Outlook or Outlook Express, the attachment usually goes to a temporary folder, C:\WINDOWS\TEMP, until you save it to a more permanent location. If you double-click the file in the mail window, you'll be prompted to either open or save. If you save the file, note the file location so that you can find it later.
Next you must know what type of file you're receiving. Is it a .doc, .xls, .wpd, .wks or .rtf document, for example? If it's an image, is it .bmp, .gif, .jpg, .tif, .wmf? Each of these extensions follows the file name and refers to the program that's associated with the file. If you don't have a program on your end to open a particular file type, you won't be able to view the file.
There are literally hundreds of file extensions that tell your computer which program to run in order to open the file. If the file extension isn't visible, right-mouse click on the file icon and view the properties. Here you'll see the full file name and the associated application, if it's installed.
If you know the type of file attachment and where it's been saved, then you can attempt to open it. You can try double clicking the file icon from the Windows Explorer file manager, but you may actually have to run the associated application in order to open the file. For example, if you know it's a Word document, but it won't open from Explorer, start Word and then open the file from within Word.
Browser software such as Netscape or Internet Explorer will usually display .gif or .jpg downloaded images for you. But if you've received a scanned image created with special photo-editor software, you may not be able to view the image unless you have the same software resident on your PC.
Do not download or accept any attachments unless you're sure your virus definitions are up-to-date. In fact, you shouldn't be on the Internet or exchanging e-mail at all if your e-vaccinations aren't current. Last week I received the PrettyPark worm on two different occasions from familiar sources, but I knew better than to double-click on the executable file. This nasty bug duplicates itself and sends it to everyone in your address book, hence the return address from someone I knew.
It was a wake-up call to update my Norton Anti-Virus definitions right away. Just because you have anti-virus software installed on your computer doesn't mean you're immune to the hundreds of viruses that are proliferated each day. It's up to each user to be proactive and regularly contact the vendor Web site, such as Norton or McAfee, to ensure that your protection is up-to-date.
If you own Norton Anti-Virus, connect to the Internet and then run Live Update from within the Norton software. McAfee VirusScan users can find information at download.mcafee.com/updates/updates.asp McAfee is no longer releasing updates for version 3 products and advises users to upgrade to the latest version.
Good things are worth repeating. Be careful with file attachments and downloads. Know the type of file and where it's going, and be sure to protect yourself from virus attacks. There are bad people out there determined to bring misery to your desktop.
Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.
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