Downloads FAQ

Welcome to PC World's Downloads library, and to the Download Store. This article offers answers to the questions we're asked most often. If your question isn't covered in these pages, please send it in an e-mail message to PCWorld.com Customer Service at webmaster@pcworld.com.

What are the PC World Downloads library and the Download Store?

Getting Started

How to Find and Download Files

Handling Downloadable Files

Installing Screen Savers, Icons, and Themes

General Questions

Problems Downloading

Developers & Copyright Concerns


What are the PC World Downloads library and the Download Store?

The PC World Downloads library

The Downloads library offers freeware and trial shareware for download, as well as some "Buy Only" titles. Downloaded trial versions include information on how to purchase the full product should you decide to do so after trying it.

Many of the files in the Downloads library have been reviewed by members of PC World's award-winning editorial staff, who give you their frank opinions to help you decide which products will meet your needs best. On browse lists, files that have been reviewed are marked with a "PCWorld Reviewed" logo. On a reviewed file's information page the editor's review will appear under a PC World Reviewed tab.

Other files available in the library haven't been reviewed by PC World. On an unreviewed file's PC World Downloads information page you will see a Description tab with a description provided by the developer. No PC World Reviewed tab will appear on those information pages.

Absence of a review is no reflection on the quality or possible pros and cons of the software. It simply means that PC World editors haven't reviewed it, so we can make no recommendation about it one way or another. (The Downloads library offers thousands of files; we simply can't review all of them.) Our editors make every effort to review the most important programs, as well as the most popular ones.

Click the User Reviews tab on a file's information page to see how members of the PCWorld.com community rate it and what they say about it. User star ratings are summarized by the Avg. User Rating toward the top of the page. When you see a zero star rating and "Be the first to review" under User Reviews, that means no user has posted a review yet. If you've used the file yourself, you can post your review of it when you're signed in as a PCWorld.com member.

The PC World Downloads library acts as a point of distribution for freeware, free trial software, and "Buy Only" files, but of course our editors can't provide individual user support for those thousands of files. When we review a file, we include an 'Author' link to the creator or developer. You can use that link if you have questions or comments about a particular file. (If you find an 'Author' link that doesn't work, please let us know by writing to webmaster@pcworld.com.) We encourage developers (or their agents) who provide their own files to include an 'Author' link; not all of them supply such a link, but many do.

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The PC World Download Store

The Download Store, powered by our partner Digital River, gives you an easy opportunity to shop for and purchase downloadable software, often at reduced prices.

As with all advertising and shopping on PCWorld.com, products available for sale may or may not have been reviewed by PC World editors. A program's availability in the Store is never permitted to affect the content of an editorial review, and should not be construed as an editorial recommendation by PC World.

To learn whether PC World has reviewed a particular product, return from the Download Store to the Downloads section of PCWorld.com itself by clicking the Downloads link at the top of the page in the red PC World banner. Then use the Search for field in the Downloads banner. (The Search function at the top of the left column on Download Store pages searches only the Store itself.)

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Download Store Customer Service

Questions, problem reports, and other concerns about items and purchases in the Download Store itself should be sent directly to Digital River via the Digital River Customer Service page. (You'll also find a link to it at the bottom of Download Store pages.) The Customer Service page includes a Quick Order Lookup function and also links to the answers to the Store's frequently asked questions. At the bottom of that page is a Contact Customer Service link that will take you to an e-mail form for submitting your question, report, or comment directly to Digital River Customer Service.

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What is PC World's financial relationship with shareware and "Buy Only" developers or vendors?

PC World may receive a portion of the fee that users pay when purchasing either the full version of trial software they've downloaded from PCWorld.com or "Buy Only" software purchased through the Downloads library. PC World also receives a share of sales made through the Download Store.

The financial relationships don't in any way affect the content of PC World editorial reviews of those products.

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Getting Started

What is the difference between shareware, freeware, and "Buy Only"?

Shareware is downloadable software that you can try before you buy. Aside from the "Buy Only" products, all files in the PCWorld.com Downloads library are downloadable free of charge. Some are free to try (shareware), and others are completely free (freeware). Freeware is noted as 'License Type: Freeware' and 'Price: Free' on the file description.

Shareware files are noted as 'License Type: Shareware' on their file descriptions. They're free for evaluation with no obligation. If you like the result of your evaluation and decide to keep the file or to purchase the full version, the 'Price' notation on the file description page tells you what it will cost. Information on how to purchase or register the software will be included in the download itself, too, usually in a Readme text file.

Files designated 'License Type: Buy Only' offer the full product for purchase only.

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Do I need to make any preparations before I download software?

Downloading is usually easy. Sometimes, though, you might download a file and forget where it is on your hard drive. (Don't worry, this has happened to all of us!)

To avoid this problem, we suggest you create a special folder for your downloads. You can name it anything. ("My Downloads" is a popular choice because it uses the same naming convention as "My Documents," for example.) You can place your My Downloads folder wherever you wish, but we suggest that you put it within the My Documents folder, on your desktop, or in the root of your C: drive. Wherever you place it, the folder should be easy for you to find and reach.

Some people don't realize that once a program is installed, you don't necessarily need the original file you downloaded. Unless you plan to install the program again on another computer, you can keep your hard drive tidy by deleting installation files after you use them. On the other hand, you'll have to download the program again if you ever need to reinstall Windows or your applications.

Before you start downloading, you may also need to install an unzipping utility. For more information, see "Handling Downloadable Files".

Keep in mind that programs that work fine on one computer may not work well--or might even cause problems--on another. Think of it like food allergies: One person could eat peanuts all day long, but a less lucky individual might be sent into anaphylactic shock by just a fleck of peanut butter. Here are a few guidelines to protect your PC from potential damage:

  • Before downloading software, read compatibility information carefully. Software designed for Windows XP or Vista may not run properly on a Microsoft OS from last century.
  • Before you install your new software, make sure your system is clean. Run your antivirus program and your spyware checker. If you don't have one of each, browse the Downloads library for antivirus tools and free antispyware programs. Once you're satisfied your PC is free of spyware, create a system restore point.
  • If you think you might need tech support, check to see if any is available. Vendors may not support their older programs. (We include on the file's information page the date it was added to our library.) Most freeware vendors don't have the resources to offer prompt and personal tech support (this is one of the arguments for sending donations to freeware writers). Many of them do answer e-mail when they can, though, and some host online support forums.
  • PC World runs each software file through a spyware checker and a virus checker in the course of reviewing it. However, new malware is identified every day. No matter what the source of the file, it's smart to check for spyware before and after installing a new program--and if you find any spyware, to remove it and use the restore point you created.

Here's how to create a restore point in Windows Vista:

  • Open the Control Panel and click the System icon.
  • On the "View basic information about your computer" screen, click the System Protection link. That will take you to the System Protection Tab under System Properties.
  • Click the Create button to create a restore point. At the prompt, type the description you want, then click the Create button again. After that, the process may take a few minutes.

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What do I need to download files?

Since you're reading this, you probably have everything you need. The primary requirements are Internet access, sufficient hard-drive space to store the files, and browser settings that allow you to download files. (See "Problems Downloading" for more assistance.) Broadband access is best; you can download if you use dial-up access, but keep in mind that it'll take longer.

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How to Find and Download Files

How can I search for a Downloads file?

First, click the Downloads link at the top of any PCWorld.com page to go to the Downloads main page.

If you have a specific program in mind, enter its name in the 'Search for ____' field in the light blue Downloads bar. Click on the name of the file in the search results to go to its information page.

Search tips: When entering your search, try to spell the program's name accurately so the search function can find it for you. If you aren't certain what letters are capitalized in the name, try using all lowercase; the search will then consider all lower and upper case possibilities. Some product names may be two words closed up to become a single word (such as "ZoneAlarm"), so if your search term is unsuccessful spelled as two words, try spelling it as one.

You can also use the Search field at the top of any PCWorld.com page. Using that site search will return results in a variety of categories, with Downloads files under the Downloads heading on the search results page.

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How can I browse the Downloads library?

PC World's Downloads library is organized into categories and subcategories, such as 'Utilities, Antivirus & Security,' and many more. You can see them in the category list under 'Browse Software by Category' on the Downloads main page. To go to a category list, click on the category or subcategory you want. You may find still more subcategories on the destination page to help you narrow your search. Toward the top under the light blue Downloads bar there'll be a "bread crumb" line to show you where you are. (Downloads 〉〉 Utilities 〉〉 System Resources Tune-Up," for example.) You can click any of the elements in that bread crumb line to back out to that page.

(You may see boxes titled 'Sponsored Downloads' at the top and within browse lists on Downloads pages. Those boxes are advertisements. They offer products as purchase opportunities. As with all advertisements, no review or recommendation by PC World editors is implied.)

You'll also see links on the Downloads main page under 'Most Popular Software', 'Latest Software Reviews', and 'Editors' Favorite Files.' They'll steer you to files or collections of files that our editors believe are of the greatest interest that day or that our site visitors have made the most popular by downloading them.

You are browsing Downloads: Lower on the Downloads main page you'll see this heading above a list of all downloads in the library, arranged, by default, with the most popular in recent days first. You can change this arrangement by clicking Product Name to arrange the items alphabetically; License to arrange them as Buy Only, Shareware, and Freeware; Date Added to arrange them by the date they were added to the library (newest first); or All-Time to arrange them by popularity over the long term.

We invite you to subscribe to the free Daily Downloads newsletter. Every weekday it features the newest reviewed files. Just visit our newsletters subscription page.

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What information is on a file's page?

Each file in the Downloads library has a description page that provides detailed information about the file, including its system requirements, operating system compatibility (be sure it's compatible with your operating system), author (developer), trial period if it's trialware, license type ("Freeware" means there's no license), price ("free" means it's freeware), and other specifics. If you decide to download the file, use the Download Now button. You'll also find a PC World Reviewed tab, if a PC World editor has reviewed it, a Description tab with the developer's description if it isn't reviewed, and a User Reviews tab where you can read PCWorld.com community members' reviews. You can post your own review when you're signed in, too.

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How do I download?

To download a file, click the Download Now link on its information page. When a file is hosted by PCWorld.com itself, that link will take you to a file-download page while the file is downloaded to your PC. When a file is hosted by its developer or vendor, you'll first see our file-download page and then automatically move on to the developer's download page.

Before the file begins to download, your system will prompt you for instructions about where to put the file on your computer. If you have already established your default location for downloads, your computer will either ask you to confirm that location or will simply start the download, depending on your browser and the settings you've established.

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Handling Downloadable Files

What are archive (.zip) files?

An archive contains one or more files in a compressed format. Archive files created by the most commonly used archiving software have file names that end in .arc, .arj, .rar, or (most often) .zip. Files of any type--programs, text, or graphics--may be packed in such archives.

An archive is generally much smaller than the actual size of the file or files it contains. When archived, a file can be reduced in size by as much as 60 percent, depending on the type of data it contains. The smaller size makes it faster to download.

A few file types, including .gif graphics files, can be stored--but not compressed--in an archive. A given archive may contain from one file to dozens, allowing you to get all the files for a game, spreadsheet, or other program in a single download.

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How do I open archive files?

A particular kind of utility is required to put files into an archive; some examples are PKZip, PowerArchiver, WinZip, and WinRAR. The same program, or another that supports the format used, is required to "unpack" archived files.

Both Windows XP and Vista can create or unpack files in the .zip format natively. To extract files, simply select the .zip file, right-click it, and choose the Extract All option. Use the Send to/Compressed Folder option to create such a file. You also can unpack .zip and other types of archives in PC World's Downloads library with any of the archiving utilities mentioned above; you can find them, and a number of others, under the Compression category in the Downloads library.

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What are self-extracting archives, and how do I handle them?

Most .exe files that you download are self-extracting archives that do not require use of another program to unpack the files. As its name suggests, a self-extracting archive unpacks its own files when you run it.

It's a good idea to unpack the files in a folder set aside for that purpose, such as My Downloads. A self-extracting archive may contain installation files that will be left on your hard drive after you install the program; you'll want to keep those files in one place so that you can delete them easily later.

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Is there anything special to consider when I install downloaded files?

Installing downloaded programs differs little from installing other kinds of software. Most programs--whether commercial, freeware, or shareware--include an installer. However, unlike an installation CD, the installer may not run automatically when you unpack the file. If it doesn't, look for and run the 'install.exe' or 'setup.exe' file.

The few programs that require manual installation almost always come with detailed instructions. The Readme file (named read.me, readme.txt, or something similar) that comes with most programs usually contains all the information you need to install the program and get started.

Some programs simply run from where they're unpacked--in this case, look for a file name ending in '.exe' that matches or resembles the program's name.

If you do have problems, first consult the Readme file. If it doesn't provide the information you need, contact the program's creator or developer. You should be able to find contact information in the Readme file; alternatively, check for an 'Author' link on the file's PCWorld.com Downloads description page.

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How do I handle files that don't have installation instructions?

Some types of software are so commonplace that their developers don't include installation instructions in the packages. Here are the four most frequently encountered types. Consult your system manual for information on selecting and activating them.

  1. Screen savers: These files usually have the extension .scr. Just put them in the Windows directory (C:\Windows\System or C:\Windows\System32).
  2. Desktop themes: In Windows XP and Vista, extract these files to the Themes directory, located at C:\Windows\Resources\Themes.
  3. Wallpapers: These files must have the extension .bmp, and they must reside in the Windows root directory (C:\Windows).
  4. TrueType fonts: Files with the extension .ttf belong in the folder C:\Windows\Fonts.

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Installing Screen Savers, Icons, and Themes

The 'Screen Savers & Themes' category of our library is a rich source of screen savers, icon packages, wallpaper, themes, and other decorations for your PC.

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How do I install screen savers?

Your Windows screen saver selection includes some good stuff. But why settle for the options that came with Windows, when you can replace them with images from our library that suit you perfectly? To see the many choices, check the Screen Savers section of our library.

To install a screen saver, download the program and save it to your My Documents or My Downloads folder (or whatever location you've designated as your download repository). When you unzip the program, it should automatically extract itself to the proper directory in Windows.

You can find Vista screen savers under Control Panel, Appearance and Personalize. To use the screen saver in XP, go to Control Panel, double-click on Display, click on the Screen Saver tab, and select the screen saver you want from the drop-down list.

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What are icon packages?

If you're tired of Windows' default icons, take a look at the Icons in our library. They can change everything from the cursors you see in Word to the Recycle Bin on your desktop.

To view and install an icon package, you'll need an icon manager. We recommend IconCool Studio Pro or Axialis IconWorkshop. Both of these products are shareware. Freeware programs reviewed and available in the Downloads library unfortunately aren't supported for newer systems.

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What is wallpaper?

"Wallpaper" refers to the image that appears on your desktop behind the icons when all your windows are closed or minimized. It can be any one of several standard image types, such as .jpg or .bmp. Yours may show your PC manufacturer's logo, or it may be one of the options that come with Windows, such as waves, tiles, or clouds. If you want to personalize your desktop, browse the Wallpaper files in our library.

To install wallpaper, download the file to your designated downloads folder and unzip it. When it unzips, it should automatically go to the proper directory in Windows. All you have to do is open Control Panel, double click on Display, select the Background tab, and then select the new file from the ones listed. You may also browse to other locations to import image files by using the Browse button.

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What are themes?

Themes are like suites of desktop files. They include wallpaper, icons, and often music files and sound effects. Installation of a desktop theme is a little more involved than setting up an individual screen saver, icon package, or wallpaper file--but it's worth the effort.

To install a theme, download the file to a folder on your hard drive. Then, using an unzipping utility, extract the files to the C:\ directory of your hard drive. The files should automatically go to your C:\Windows\Resources\Themes directory. If the result of the unpacking is an .exe file, you'll need to run it to finish the installation.

To use the theme, open Control Panel, double-click on Display (XP) or Appearance and Personalization (Vista), select the Themes tab (XP) or Change the theme (Vista), and choose the theme from the drop-down list. You might want to save your current theme first, in case you wish to revert to it in the future.

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General Questions

Can I download your files for free?

You can browse and download files in the Downloads library at no charge, except for those designated "Buy Only," which you must purchase to download. Most files are either freeware, shareware, or a demonstration version of a commercial product.

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Does PC World's Downloads staff check files for viruses and spyware?

All files reviewed by PC World's Downloads editors are checked for both viruses and spyware as part of the review.

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How often are your files updated?

New files are added to the Downloads library often. Old files are updated when developers submit new versions, or our editors may remove old files when they become obsolete or their developers no longer support them. The date a file was added to the Downloads library is included on its information page.

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What if I have an old version of a file?

In most cases you can download the newer version and install it over the old one. (If a new version isn't available from the PC World Downloads library, check the developer's Web site.) Your data files should remain intact, but backing them up is still a good idea, just in case the new program does overwrite them. (Regular backups are a good practice regardless.) Some programs require you to uninstall previous versions for them to function properly. A few (such as Nero's CD/DVD burning suite) even offer cleaning utilities to remove Registry settings and files that the main uninstall utility doesn't handle.

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Problems Downloading

What does it mean when my system reports "spyware" or a "Trojan horse" in a file?

First, keep in mind that there are two sorts of files in the PC World Downloads library:

  1. Files that members of PC World's Downloads editorial staff review are checked for viruses and for spyware and adware as part of the review process.
  2. When a file has been posted directly by a developer or vendor and not reviewed by PC World, its information page will have a Description tab but not a PC World Reviewed tab. This means PC World has neither reviewed nor scanned that file, though in most cases the provider has checked for viruses or spyware.

We do receive many reports from users whose security applications mistakenly report spyware or Trojan horses in files downloaded from PCWorld.com. Please note that firewall, antivirus, antispyware, and other security applications vary widely, and each program is based its own definitions. Some definitions tend to misidentify certain elements in downloads as "spyware" or "Trojan horses" when no such items are present. Actual spyware and Trojan horses are unlikely to be contained in files downloaded from PCWorld.com. However, if you're certain your security application has reported such a problem correctly, please report it to webmaster@pcworld.com.

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Why do I receive an error message when I try to download?

'Access Denied' and similar error messages usually generate at the user end, coming from either your computer itself or, if your computer operates in a network, from the network. Such messages indicate a router, firewall (ZoneAlarm, Lavasoft), or network setting that prevents the downloading of some types of files or may prevent downloading entirely. In some cases you'll be able to download successfully from one Web site but not from another because of security settings that react to cookies and other measures a site may use. To explore ways to change such settings, consult the developer of the router, firewall, or security software you're using. If you're part of a network (such as in an office), consult your network administrator. (Occasional error messages generated by PCWorld.com about our own system will be labeled as PC World messages.)

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Why can't I get the complete file to download?

Stalled or frozen downloads sometimes occur, especially with large files over dial-up connections. Make sure you've followed the download instructions, and test your system by downloading a smaller file. Router or security settings, or e-mail or Internet software on your PC, may be killing or resetting your connection.

You might try using a download file manager. Check our File Management category for options. A download manager can pause a download when you're disconnected and then, when you're reconnected, pick up the download where it left off.

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What do I do if I have trouble saving a download to a particular location on my computer?

Perhaps the directory specified in your browser's options no longer exists. Be sure to check your browser's program options to see whether you have properly indicated the location to which you wish files to be downloaded.

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A link to a file's page, or the link to download it, seems to be broken. What should I do?

Report the problem link in an e-mail to PCWorld.com Customer Service at webmaster@pcworld.com. Be sure to include as many details as possible to help us investigate the issue. Whenever possible, copy and paste the link or URL into your message to Customer Service.

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When I try to download a .zip file, I'm prompted for a "helper application." What's that?

A helper application is a program that deals with a specific file type your browser doesn't recognize or can't handle. Check your browser's Help file for information on how to download a .zip file, or upgrade to a newer browser.

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The program I downloaded says it needs additional drivers. Where can I find them?

The Patches & Drivers section of our Downloads library probably will have the driver you need.

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I'm having trouble installing or running a program I obtained from your site. What should I do?

Contact the developer directly for support and information about the program. Check for an 'Author' link on that file's PC World Downloads information page, or look in the Readme document usually included in the downloaded archive file. If the file was supplied to PC World by the developer and no 'Author' link is supplied, try using a search engine (such as Google or Yahoo) to search on the name of the file and find its developer.

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Developers & Copyright Concerns

Submitting and Updating Files

PC World currently doesn't accept files for individual upload to the Downloads library.

We do have a relationship with Digital River that allows for simple XML uploads of "Try Before You Buy" titles into the library. If you wish to have your title submitted through this feed, please contact Katie O'Shea at Digital River, koshea@digitalriver.com. To update a file that you have submitted through Digital River, please contact Digital River directly.

If you wish to submit freeware or shareware for possible review by PC World editors, please consult our Complete Guide to Submitting a Product for Review, which includes a link to the editorial Beat List.

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Copyright Concerns About a File

If you have copyright concerns regarding a file in the Downloads library, please alert PCWorld.com Customer Service by writing to webmaster@pcworld.com, or follow the copyright reporting process outlined on our Copyright page.

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