How To: Open a Zip file

You've downloaded a file from the Internet, and it's in Zip format. Or perhaps a friend has emailed you a Zip file. How do you open a Zip file? What is a .Zip file anyway?

What is a Zip file?

Zip files are compressed archives. The term "Archive" in this context means that the file may contain one or more files, or even folders, much like folders on your hard disk. "Compressed" means that mathematical techniques have been used to reduce the space needed to store the files, so that the size of the archive may be much smaller than the size of the files it contains. There are many different compression techniques in use today. "Zip" is the name given to the compression algorithm originally developed by Phil Katz. It isn't the best, and it wasn't even the first, but it is certainly the most widespread. And the name neatly describes a way of packaging up a file or group of files.

In short, Zip files are a space-saving way of storing single files or groups of related files.

Files in a Zip archive will decompress to exactly their original state. This is called "lossless compression." The compression methods used with JPG image files or MP3 music files are called "lossy compression" because some of the quality of the original image or sound is lost during the compression process.

Zip files are used because they take up less space to store, and take less time to send or download. They are also a very convenient way to package and send groups of related files. However, the files must be extracted or unzipped from the archive before they can be used. Although some Zip / Unzip applications make it look as though you can open a file directly from a Zip file, in fact they must extract a copy of the file to a temporary storage area and open this temporary copy. Windows cannot open a file or run a program directly from a Zip file.

Opening a Zip file

If you're using Windows XP, then your operating system has built-in support for Zip files. They are described as "Compressed (zipped) folders." Just double-click on a Zip file and it will open in Explorer, just like a folder. Double-click on a file inside the compressed folder and you may be able to open that too (but really, Windows has extracted a copy of the file to another location and is opening that, as described above.) But if you right-click on items in a compressed (zipped) folder, you'll notice that the same options don't appear on the pop-up menu. This shows that it is not a real folder.

If you're using Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows NT or Windows 2000 then you'll need to install a special application to open Zip files. The application that is usually recommended to use is WinZip. WinZip became popular because it was the first ever Zip / Unzip utility for Windows. But with each new release it has become bloated with features and options that most people never use. Many people are totally confused by it.

Open Zip files in Microsoft Windows

ssTo open Zip files in Windows, recommends BitZipper. It's much more powerful and versatile than WinZip, yet it's also easier to use. BitZipper is an archive manager that lets you open not only Zip files but 30 other popular compressed and encoded file formats. It can create archives using most of these formats too, and it's also a fast and flexible backup tool.

BitZipper has a Wizard interface making it ideal for novice users with no experience of working with compressed files. It also has a Classic interface (shown right) for more experienced users. BitZipper is a solid and stable application that can handle the largest Zip archives without crashing, something the built-in Zip support in Windows often can't do!

BitZipper runs on Windows 2000, XP and Vista.

Open Zip files in Apple Mac OS X

Stuffit lets you open Rar files on a MacIf you use an Apple Mac then you can can use Stuffit to open Zip files. Stuffit is one of the most long established Mac utilities. It gives you a complete set of tools for opening and creating the many and various types of compressed archive that you may come across on the Internet.

Stuffit can open Zip files, Rar files, Tar files and 27 other different archive types. It includes a "Quick Look" feature that kets you you look inside archive files without opening them.

You can use Stuffit to create archives in the most popular formats as well. You can use compressed archives to save space on your hard drive or to compress MP3s, PDFs, photos and other files into convenient archives to send to friends and colleagues.

Stuffit requires Mac OS X 10.4 or higher.