How to Deal With .ZIP Files

Like many online functions, downloading and processing ZIP files seems rather mysterious and not entirely intuitive. Fortunately, as soon as you grasp the details, it's one of those computer functions that makes perfect sense and becomes second nature.
Published: Apr 13, 2005
Author: Don Watkins
Compression utilities
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Acubix PicoZip 4.02
Download This archive utility supports creating standard ZIP, BH, CAB, GZip, JAR, LHA, LZH and TAR...

Millions of words have been written on the richness of material available online -- and I agree absolutely. I never fail to be amazed with the variety of products, information, and just plain stuff. One of my favorites online goodies are downloads. Demos, shareware, public domain programs, whatever -- I rarely have a problem that I can't find a program to solve it with.

Like many online functions, downloading and processing ZIP files seems rather mysterious and not entirely intuitive. Fortunately, as soon as you grasp the details, it's oneof those computer functions that makes perfect sense and becomes second nature.

A ZIP file is one that's been created using the ZIP compression protocol developed by Philip Katz. It's made up of one or more files that have been compressed and combined into one file. The result is a file that's smaller to download and easier to manage, but it requires some offline processing in order to extract the various files in the ZIP file, as well as decompress them.

If you use Windows XP it has ZIP file support built in; simply double click a ZIP file and it opens. If you use a version of Windows prior to Windows XP you'll want a ZIP utility. In fact Windows XP ZIP support is limited so you may want a ZIP utility as well. You'll find a number of different unZIP programs. My personal favorite is PicoZip. PicoZip is shareware and is available for download from Tucows here or if you want to see the dozens available you'll find a complete list here.PicoZip is distributed as a Windows self-extracting file. To run it download it and save it to disk and then click on the file name or icon. The Setup Wizard will take over and guide you from there. Once you have an unzip utility installed it should associate itself with ZIP files and any time you double click on a ZIP file it should open with your unzip utility.

Like people, no two disks are the same, so the following aren't hard and fast rules. They're general suggestions that you may want to consider for processing downloads. Once you start downloading files, you'll find that it's easy to become inundated with files that are included in the download, but aren't something you necessarily need to keep around. Worse, the names are often similar. If you're not careful, it's easy to end up with multiple files with enigmatic names like Readme.txt, Readme.1st and so on. Also, if you try a program and decide you don't want to keep it, all the extras make it a bit more difficult to erase. Here's a suggestion to simplify the management of downloaded files. Set up a folder to serve as a holding area (mine is named C:\download) for downloaded files. Create another folder for extracting ZIP files contents to (mine is called C:\temp). Configure your unZIP program to extract the files to this folder. Using a dedicated extract directory has several advantages. If you want to run a virus scan on the files, they're all in one place. You can look over the package, check any Readme.1st files (a common filename containing instructions on installation). Usually, you can also run the setup program from here.

Once you've run the program to setup the program and established the program in its own folder, you can delete the contents of the \temp folder. You should still have the original ZIP distribution file in your \download folder should you need it for any reason. As you work with downloaded files, you'll probably come up with your own ideas for how you want to handle things. We all have different ways of working and customizing your computer is the best part of the "personal" in personal computer, so don't be afraid to experiment!

About Don Watkins

Don Watkins loves (and sometimes hates) computers. A committed nerd, including a romp with a binary computer from Edmund Scientific in the early 60s and taking apart adding machines and clocks as a kid in the 50s and 60s he was first exposed to the real thing in the late 1960s and was hooked. In 1982, Don developed the IBM Users Network on CompuServe, one of the first online communities available to multiple simultaneous users. Back then getting 1,000 users online at once was a big deal. After leaving CompuServe, Don's "PCNet" moved to MSN and then had a stint at ZDNet and now continues to thrive on it's own. It may very well be one of oldest continuously operating online enterprises still around. In 1994 Don was awarded the John Dvorak Lifetime Achievement Award. He was inducted in the Shareware Industry Awards Foundation Hall of Fame in 1997, and was awarded the SIA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. He is a founding member of the US Internet Industry Association and a lifetime member of the Association of Shareware Professionals where he is a past board member. In addition to PCNet Don enjoys golf and running the world famous BigDriver.com web site.

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