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  • How to Use, Send, and Extract Zip Files
    By Jennifer Cobb

    What's a Zip file?

    Imagine throwing a bunch of computer files in a plastic bag and sucking out all the air with one of those vacuum-sealer food savers. What you end up with would probably take up a lot less space, and would be easier to handle too.

    That's what "zipping" files can do for you. A Zip file can provide two benefits: archiving several files into a single file, and compressing files to take up less disk space on your computer. Both of these things make storing and emailing files easier and more efficient.

    The Zip format is the most popular Windows compression format. While Mac OS X supports Zip, earlier versions of Mac OS may need to use the StuffIt format, which we'll save for another article.

    When should I Zip files?

    There are plenty of times you'll run across the need for a Zip file. Here are a few we came up with:
    • When you're emailing a dozen pictures of your baby: Zipping the pictures packs them neatly into a single attachment that takes up less space and arrives faster.

    • When you have 20 versions of a presentation you made at work: Zipping the files groups them together, compresses them, and saves them for future reference. If you need to, you can unzip the files and view them in their original format.

    • When you're emailing your boss an important file: Some email programs automatically display the text and images of attachments directly in the body of the message. Zipping the file ensures that what you've attached arrives exactly as you've saved it.

    • When you're running out of hard disk space: Zipping large files will help you save hard disk space, and you can unzip them as needed.
    How do I Zip a file?
    Zipping files is easy. Just follow the instructions below that match your operating system.

    If you need help identifying your Windows operating system, right-click on the My Computer icon and choose Properties. For help identifying your Mac OS, select About This Mac from the Apple menu.
      Windows XP and Me:

      Windows XP has support for Zip files built right in. Simply right-click on the file or folder you want to compress and choose Send to > Compressed (zipped) Folder.

      Windows 2000 and Earlier:
      If you're using an earlier version of Windows, you'll need to download a compression (and extraction) program. One popular program is WinZip. The basic version of WinZip costs around $30, but you can try it for free. Although this is the most popular, there are other programs available at VersionTracker—some for free.

      WinZip makes it easy to create a new Zip file using the WinZip Wizard Mode. (If the WinZip Wizard does not appear when you open WinZip, click the Wizard button in the toolbar.) Simply choose Create a new Zip file and click Next. The WinZip Wizard will guide you through the entire process.

      Mac OS X:

      Mac OS X has support for Zip files built right in.

      Simply select the file or folder in the Finder menu. Then, from the File menu, choose Create Archive.

      Mac OS 9 and earlier:

      If you're using an earlier version of Mac OS, you'll need to download a compression (and extraction) program. Try StuffIt Standard, which is free to try and $49.99 to buy. StuffIt can open Zip files and even create them with its DropZip function.

    Emailing a Zip file

    You email a Zip file just as you do any other email attachment, by finding the file on your computer and clicking Send.

    For help with sending email attachments using several popular email programs for Windows and Mac, see our previous tech tip.

    How do I unzip (extract) a file?

    You can recognize a Zip file by the file name extension ".zip". To unzip the file, follow the instructions below that match your operating system.

    Note: If you've received the Zip file as an email attachment, take care when opening it´┐Żas you should with any email attachment. Computer viruses are often transmitted through email attachments. For more information about how to protect your computer from email viruses, see our previous Virus Blocker tech tip.
      Windows XP and Me:

      Right-click on the Zip file and choose Extract All. Follow the simple on-screen instructions.

      Windows 2000 and Earlier:

      After you've installed WinZip, you can open a Zip file by double-clicking on it. The WinZip Wizard will guide you through the process of unzipping your file.

      Mac OS X:

      Simply double-click on the compressed file. Mac OS X will automatically extract the files to a folder.

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