Originally created 08/12/02

Gizmos that handle compression

When was the last time you thought about how software you download from the Internet is decompressed? Most folks would probably say "never," but the true computer addict not only wants to know how it's being done, but what options he has when doing it.

With that in mind, I took a look at PentaZip ($49.95) from PentaWare, PKZip Professional 5.0 ($39.95) from PKWare and WinZip ($29.95) from WinZip Computing, Inc.

Basically, you can't go wrong with any of these programs when working with the more common compressed files found in cyber-space. The real difference comes when you consider options in handling more esoterically compressed files or in handling graphics.

The most comprehensive - and most expensive - of the trio is PentaZip.

This package is designed to handle every form of compression known in computerdom, including some that haven't been used since the Stone Age. It is also the only one of the three that can convert graphics and text files saved in oddball formats using a built-in viewer, reducing headaches when you're trying to open an e-mail attachment sent to you by your maiden aunt in Toledo.

Among its other capabilities are:

- It can encode and decode e-mail attachments using UUEncode, MIME-64, XXEncode and BinHex without additional software.

- Its Windows Explorer interface allows you to access its functions from within Explorer or via the Windows desktop.

- You can drag and drop files to and from various compressed archives.

- You can simultaneously zip and unzip files.

- You can create self-extracting files.

- You can create scripts to automate zipping and unzipping functions.

- You can save larger zip files to more than one floppy disk.

- You can compress files from multiple directories to a single archive.

- You can test and repair damaged files.

- You can extract only the files you want from a compressed archive.

PKZip and WinZip are geared more for the home user who doesn't need all the features of PentaZip but wants to be able to uncompress and compress files quickly and reliably. Both of these programs do the job extremely well, although PKZip is a bit more comprehensive.

First let's deal with what they have in common:

- Both programs use a graphical interface or wizards (for advanced users) to guide you through zipping or unzipping files.

- Both can be integrated with Windows Explorer and with your Internet browser.

- Both support all the common Zip formats found on the Internet.

- And both do their job quickly.

But the folks at PKZip throw in a few extra bells and whistles, including the ability to change the contents of a zipped file without decompressing and recompressing it, password- or certificate-based encryption and virtually unlimited zip file capacity.

It's best to evaluate your needs before choosing among these three utilities, so you may want to take them for a test drive before deciding. Downloadable versions of the software are available at www.pentaware.com, www.pkzip.com and www.winzip.com. They'll bug you for payment after the trial periods end, and may even become inactive after a while, but the reduction in your frustration level when trying to open or view archaic or compressed files is worth the trip.