I unpacked the joomla zip file straight into a newly created sub-directory in htdocs. But when I navigated to the new directory, I got the following error message:
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Warning: require_once(C:\xampp\htdocs\xxxxxxx\installation\includes\defines.php) [function.require-once]: failed to open stream: No such file or directory in C:\xampp\htdocs\xxxxxxx\installation\index.php on line 19
Fatal error: require_once() [function.require]: Failed opening required 'C:\xampp\htdocs\xxxxxxx\installation\includes\defines.php' (include_path='.;C:\xampp\php\pear\') in C:\xampp\htdocs\xxxxxxx\installation\index.php on line 19
i then used the windows explore application and could see all the files there in the correct location. I tried unpacking multiple times and received the same error every time.
So then I uninstalled XAMPP and reinstalled and repeated the installation problem, same issue.
Then I renamed the joomla archive file and unpacked again -still the same issue.
So then I unpacked the joomla archive to another directory and used copy/paste to move everything into a fresh htdocs directory - SUCCESS.
A little further research on the problem yielded this conclusion - there was some conflict/error in the way the archiving software created directories and that was what was hosing up the works. The archiving software I was using is IZarcs (which I have otherwise had decent success with).
I'm not raising this as a defect with XAMPP, but I just wanted to make you all aware of the problem because it really looked like a XAMPP issue at first (files and directories were all there).