ZIP files explained

If you have never heard of ZIP files before or don't know exactly how to handle them after they're downloaded, this page explains what they are.

ZIP files receive their name from the fact that the last 3 letters of the filename are ZIP. These last 3 latters are known as the "file extension" (or "filetype") of the complete filename.

MS-DOS and Windows use file extensions to designate which programs should be "associated" with those files. The filetype .DOC indicates that a file was created with Microsoft Word and should be opened with Word. The filetype .HTM or .HTML means the file should be viewed with a web browser like Netscape or Internet Explorer. Likewise, the filetype .ZIP indicates that the file contains one or more compressed files. A ZIP file may contain, in principle, anywhere from one to several thousand compressed files.

The compression techniques used to create ZIP files are very good, capable of shrinking a 1,500 kilobyte document created with Microsoft Word to less than 300 kilobytes. This is a 1:5 compression ration. This compression technique allows users to download files more quickly, to store files in less space, and to keep related files grouped together so they can all be passed at once.

The cost of quicker download time (and less disk space) is one more step for you. You must "uncompress" the ZIP file first, extracting the member files inside. After the files are uncompressed, you can edit, print, and handle them normally.

The Internet offers a large number of good commercial and freeware programs that will handle .ZIP archives and other compressed file formats, many of which can be fully integrated in the Windows environment. The following table lists some places to download free or commercial ZIP programs.

PKZip (commercial software)
Winzip (commercial)
StuffIt (free and commercial versions)
StuffIt Expander (free)
Wiz, by Infozip (free + source code)
WinImp (free)
Ultimatezip (free)
MindExpander (free)
Filzip (free)
ZipFree 2000!

A bigger list of ZIP utilities

Hope this explains things sufficiently. If you need additional help, please read the documentation that comes with each program. Otherwise, if you have a ZIP product to recommend that you think should be added to this list, let me know by e-mail. Thanks much!

Last modified: 12 Oct 2002, 10:02:33