American Library Association
GODORT Education Committee

Assessing/Viewing Various File Formats of Government Information Available Over The Internet

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Introduction and Purpose

The majority of government information available over the Internet is either in ASCII or HTML formats. These formats are generally easily accessible with a standard Internet browser such as Netscape or Internet Explorer. However, some government agencies are now supplying information in alternative formats. These formats may require additional software programs to extend the capabilities of an Internet browser in order to view the information.

The purpose of this web page is to provide explanations of the most heavily used alternative formats, along with information about the software programs necessary for viewing documents in these formats. Many government agencies, such as the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, and the National Center for Health Statistics, provide explanatory pages for accessing information in alternative formats. If while searching government web sites, you come across an alternative viewing format that you feel needs further explanation, please contact Stephanie Atkins. An explanation of the software program requirements for the format will be added to this page. Thank you.

PDF FILES
ZIP FILES
UUENCODED E-MAIL
TIFF

PDF FILES

PDF (Portable Document Format) is one standard used by many government agencies for electronic distribution of government information over the Internet. One of the benefits of PDF is that it keeps the look and feel of the original document intact. PDF files are full electronic versions of published documents including the text, page layout, and graphics. PDF files can also be viewed and printed one page at a time. PDF files are often identified with a PDF and/or with the file extension .PDF. In addition, the size of a PDF file is often included to help you determine the time required to load the file for viewing and/or downloading. Of course, this time is also dependent on your own hardware and modem connection. A general rule of thumb is that a file size reported in "K" will take much less time to download than a file size reported in "Meg" (mg).

Software Requirements
PDF files are compact, cross platform files that can be viewed with Acrobat Reader software. This software is available free of charge. You must have a copy of the Adobe Acrobat Reader Software installed on your computer to view a PDF file. (You may already have this program on your computer.) The Adobe Acrobat Product Information page provides explicit downloading and installation instructions, including a three-step process to register, select the appropriate software version, and configure your web browser.

Some files may be difficult to read from the screen. However, the Acrobat Reader's navigation and zoom features enable closer review of text and images within a PDF file. The Acrobat Reader also allows you to print these files exactly as they were originally published. It is possible to download PDF files which can then later be opened by you with your Acrobat Reader. Specific instructions are not provided for you on this page because they will vary slightly depending on your Internet browser configuration. It is recommended that you check with your library computer technician for specific instructions.

ZIP FILES

ZIP files are compressed files. The ZIP file format combines a set of separate files into a single compressed binary file which is referred to as an archive. Government agencies are increasingly using ZIP files, especially with older reports and data files, for quicker and easier downloads. ZIP files are identified on government web sites with the phrase "zip format", "zip file", or with the file extension .zip.

To successfully decompress a file, you must first save (download) the file to your computer. Clicking on a link usually initiates the downloading process. Second, unzip the file using a decompression program. Third, view the unzipped file or files using the appropriate software for the file format. Common file formats of unzipped files include .txt (ASCII format which can be read by word processing programs such as WordPad, WordPerfect, or Word), .wk1, .dat, or .xls (spreadsheets which can be read by programs such as Lotus or Excel), and .zip (files that can be open and read within your zip program).

Software Requirements
In order to decompress ZIP files, you must have a file utility that can be used to extract the individual files from the compressed binary file - - otherwise known as "unzipping" the files. Several zipping programs, including freeware, shareware, and commercial products, are available. You may have an unzip program already loaded on your computer. One of the most popular shareware programs is PKZIP which runs on MS-DOS, OS/2, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows NT 3.441+, UNIX, OpenVMS VAX, and Alpha environments. Check out the PKWARE downloading page for instructions on how to obtain PKZIP/UNZIP. Another popular program is WINZIP which runs on Windows 3.1, Windows 95, and Windows NT. Pricing for WINZIP varies depending on whether you are purchasing a single copy or a site license. ZipIt, a shareware program for $15.00, is a popular unzipping utility for Macintosh users.

Examples of ZIP files:
The Bureau of the Census often uses compressed zip files. One example, State Projection Components of Change:1995 to 2025, provides compressed data for each state. You might want to use this page to practice downloading a zip file, unzipping the file, and then reading the files. These files are text files (.txt) which can be read with a word processing program such as WordPad, Word, or WordPerfect. Alternatively, Historical Data from International Price Indexes contains zip files for downloading that, after unzipping, are in spreadsheet formats (.xls), which can be read with a spreadsheet program such as Lotus or Excel.

UUENCODED E-MAIL

When requesting files (i.e., FTP) from government agencies, they are often sent to you UUencoded via e-mail. This encoding process allows any file to be sent as an e-mail attachment. Unfortunately, not all receiving e-mail systems automatically decode these files. Therefore, you may have to UUdecode the files. Wincode, from Snappy, Inc. is a popular utility to UUdecode. In A Nutshell: Using Wincode provides easy to understand instructions on how to UUdecode an e-mail message once Wincode has been properly installed. MacIntosh users can use DropStuff with Expander from Aladdin Systems, Inc.
 

TIFF

TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) describes image data that typically comes from scanners, frame grabbers, and paint- and photo-retouching programs.  It is suitable for viewing images from the Patent and Trade Office patent databases.

Software Requirements
AlternaTIFF is a free Netscape-style browser plug-in that displays most of the common types of TIFF image files. It is compatible with Netscape Communicator 3.0 and higher and Internet Explorer 3.0 and higher.   It is a 32-bit Windows program, and requires Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows NT 4.0, and a 32-bit browser.

An Apple Macintosh® plug-in which works with images from the Patent and Trade Office is Acordex Imaging Systems Accel
ViewTIFF, which offers a free 14-day demonstration. It works in both IE 4+ and Netscape 4+.


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maintained by Stephanie Atkins (satkins@gw.bsu.edu); last updated February 14, 2000.
Originally compiled by Ann Roselle.