A great new WinZip is out --- but do problems loom?

by Preston Gralla

Let me be upfront about this: I'm a Windows utility junkie. I've written books about them, I've written hundreds of columns about them, I've run a big Web site devoted to them, and I've probably tried thousands of them over the years, starting way back in the days of Windows 3.1.

So when a new version of an old-favorite comes along, I have to download it quickly. When it's a great improvement over its previous version, I have to tell the world about it. And when there are potential clouds on the horizon, I have to weigh in as well.

That's where WinZip 9.0 comes in. I've always thought WinZip was the best compression tool of all time, and 9.0 continues to prove it. New in 9.0 is 128- and 256-bit AES encryption for more powerful security than the old Zip 2.0 encryption. The new version also supports 64-bit extensions to the Zip format, so you can now create Zip archives of virtually any size; you're not stuck with the previous 4-gigabyte limit.

The program still includes all the old goodies, such as easily dividing archives into pieces, tight integration into Windows, and special XP support, such as taking advantage of fast user switching so that a user can log on and use WinZip, while a lengthy WinZip operation is being performed in the background by another user.

That's all good news. But not everything is rosy in Zip-land. One of the best things about the Zip standard is that, well, it's a standard. Create a file in one Zip program, and you can unzip it in another, and vice versa.

But WinZip and competitor PKWare, creator of PKZip for Windows, have been squabbling for some time like the Hatfields and McCoys and things aren't quite that simple anymore. It has to do with AES encryption. WinZip and PKWare had created incompatible implementations of the encryption, so that a file encrypted with one program couldn't be decrypted with another. That's since been fixed; WinZip can decrypt PKZip AES-encrypted files, and a PKWare program called the PKZip Reader can decrypt WinZip-created encrypted files.

But the acrimony lingers, with PKWare applying for a patent related to the Zip standard, and some saying that Phil Katz, the now-deceased creator of the Zip standard and founder of PKWare, had always wanted Zip to remain an open standard.

I'm hoping that the patent doesn't get granted; I spoke on occasion with Phil Katz and I don't think that he'd have wanted any patent applied to any part of Zip. I'm also hoping that PKWare and WinZip can learn to play nice together - if not, we're all losers.

Are you a fan of WinZip? What do you think about the squabbling between WinZip and PKWare? Let me know.


2004-02-27 10:03:31
Cross-platform issues
Compatiblity between zippers on Windows is important, but so is compatibility between OSes - BeOs, Linux, BSD, MacOS, OS X can all read and write .zip, either with native or 3rd party tools. It's one of those cross-platform formats like HTML or JPEG that makes life on the internet livable. If incompatibility becomes a problem with zip, it will affect cross-platform transfers as well. And sure enough, for the time this week, a .zip file I created under OS X had decompression problems for a Windows user. I screwed up my face and sent her a .tgz instead. At least patents won't be a problem with tarballs, and we have the same level of cross-platform support.