As broadband connectivity and home networking become more prevalent, I've noticed an increase in the number and size of attachments that friends send me. These attachments range from .jpg files that they saw on a joke site to family newsletters sent out as .doc files, often with embedded pictures and drawings. Generally, I don't even notice an attachment's size; full-time high-speed Internet connectivity at home and at the office makes short work of even multimegabyte attachments. However, 80 percent of Internet users still use dial-up connections, including me when I'm traveling, unless the hotel I'm staying in offers high-speed Internet connectivity. Without a high-speed connection, I really notice the size of the attachments I receive, as a 40K dial-up connection in the hotel struggles to download an 8MB .bmp file that a friend sent me because he thought it was a funny screen capture. Using file-compression software seems to be a lost art. Although I still download many .zip files, I rarely get compressed email attachments. So I'd like to reintroduce readers to some inexpensive compression utilities, especially because email applications such as Microsoft Outlook now block certain types of files by default and still allow access to archive files.
WinZip is the grandfather of compression utilities for the Windows platform. WinZip is fundamentally ubiquitous, with an evaluation version that never actually times out. This utility was one of the first Windows shareware programs I ever bought; I used it all the time and decided that the authors deserved compensation. WinZip is simple, and its performance is comparable to the other products reviewed here. If you use it and it serves your needs, you have no reason to move on. But its interface is very dated compared to its competitors, and the wizard becomes unnecessary after you've used it once or twice. If your compression needs move to some of the more obscure file formats, WinZip 8.0 has the least comprehensive file-format support of the products reviewed here. But for day-to-day zip and unzip tasks, this utility is perfectly functional. And because WinZip adds itself to the right-click context menu for file manipulation, zipping up one file, a group of files, or entire directory trees is easy from within Windows Explorer. WinZip 8.0 is available from WinZip Computing for $29 for a single license.
PKWare's PKZIP for Windows 4.5 has a great interface, is easy to use with very intuitive controls (although none of these applications required cracking open the documentation), and makes creating self-extracting archives simple. You can use the utility as it installs or take time to get detailed control over almost every aspect of a compressed file. Comparing PKZIP head to head to WinZip is a dead heat for performance, but PKZIP has a nicer interface. Also, for the same $29 you pay for WinZip, you can buy the PKZIP Suite 4.5, which also includes PKZIP Command Line 4.5, PKZIP Explorer 1.5, PKZIP Attachments 1.1, and PKZIP Plug-In 1.0. And that price is only $3 more than the cost of PKZIP alone. PKZIP for Windows 4.5 is available from PKWARE for $26
WinAce Archiver is a new entry into the file-compression utility market, but it has made a name for itself in its support for all common and not-so-common file-compression formats. The WinAce interface is appealing to a techie such as me because of the amount of information the interface provides. The application gets its name from its support of the .ace file-compression format, which can be very efficient with large files. I compared the program's .ace compression to its .zip compression, but saw very little difference in the limited testing I performed. If you need to compress files in some format other than .zip, WinAce is an excellent choice. If you just need to extract files from some of the more obscure formats that the other compression utilities don't support, you can use XAce Plus 2.0, a freeware tool available from the WinAce Web site. WinAce Archiver is available from e-merge GmbH for $29.
To compare the performance of these three applications, I compressed eight files that I had either received or sent in the recent past.
- A 37MB .wmv file containing a 15-minute video that I received from a friend
- An 8.2MB .bmp file I received from a coworker
- A 38KB .doc file that I emailed to a coworker
- A 2.8MB .doc file I received that contained a mix of text and images
- A 1MB .tiff file containing a corporate logo sent to my email
- A 2.6MB .pdf file catalog I received in my inbox
- A 1.1MB .txt file that I received from a customer
- A 2.1MB .jpg file that I sent to a family member
The following table indicates little difference between any of these applications with the test files I used. Test results are reported only for .zip format files so you can compare all of the products. I performed the tests on my desktop machine-a dual-processor Pentium III 550 with 384MB of RAM.