Since its introduction many years ago, WinZip has become one of the most popular compression tools on the planet. The original version had one of the easiest to use interfaces with a simple two-pane design linked into one of the most commonly accepted compression formats, the .zip file. In this Daily Feature, I will offer an overview of WinZip 8.1, the latest incarnation of the WinZip archive tool that’s currently in beta, so you can determine whether or not your users might benefit from the upgrade.

E-mailing large files made easier with archive spanning
The beta release of WinZip 8.1 is, by the version number, an incremental upgrade. Due to WinZip 8.1’s beta status, it is suggested that you download WinZip 8.0 first before rolling out the upgrade to 8.1. There are few changes to the core operation of WinZip, so you may not even notice a difference between 8.0 and 8.1 on your current system. The most notable changes involve usability enhancements, especially in regards to e-mail.

Archive spanning, which breaks a large .zip file into smaller ones, makes e-mailing large files even easier. Just click on the Split icon in the toolbar to open up the Split dialog box. In the Split dialog box, you can set the size of the subfiles to a size more appropriate to send via e-mail. With this box, you can also chop up a large .zip file into more manageable chunks and designate the locations of the .zip files.

If you are on the receiving end of a number of .zip archives, WinZip 8.1 can now simultaneously open multiple .zip files from Windows Explorer. In previous versions of WinZip, opening multiple .zip files from your mail reader left a lot of temporary files with nonexistent filenames cluttering up your menus. However, WinZip 8.1 makes sure that the files still exist before putting them in your menu history.

Other enhancements
Subtle, but useful, improvements are scattered throughout the new version. Several menus that were previously fixed in size can now be adjusted. Opening an archive that contains an executable will open a dialog box allowing you to unzip the files or go ahead and run the installation. Forgetful users who never remember exactly what they put in their .zip files can now store up to 64,000 characters’ worth of descriptions.

XP makes WinZip 8.1 really stand out
Computers running Windows XP will notice even greater improvements. First, WinZip 8.1 is a native XP application and may be one of the first non-Microsoft applications you can get that won’t need to run in compatibility mode. Being a native XP application is not particularly vital, but it fulfills a marketing check box. Also, compatibility mode’s weaknesses are not fully understood yet. Furthermore, any self-extracting archives created by WinZip 8.1 inherit XP support by getting the pretty XP window dressing. Self-respecting distributors with designs on the XP market will definitely want to consider WinZip 8.1, if only for that feature.

Being a native XP application, WinZip is responsive to themes, so user customizations will carry over. If your users prefer a more stock/standard approach, a full suite of XP-like icons is included to give it that cool blue color. For the more utility conscious, if you have a particularly large WinZip operation that will take a while to process, you can use Windows XP’s Fast User Switching to let someone else use the computer while completing the archive in the background.

Though this version of WinZip will benefit most any organization with file compression needs, I highly recommend it for those organizations implementing Windows XP. Also, while older versions of WinZip will work with XP, the extra compatibility and enhanced icon features could help cut down on end-user confusion. However, because WinZip 8.1 is still in beta, you should download WinZip 8.0 first before rolling out the upgrade to 8.1. WinZip 8.0 is available as an electronic download from WinZip with a free upgrade to the final 8.1 release.