Users praise WinZip, a highly successful Windows archive utility that’s been downloaded more than 20 million times from one Web site alone. But if you’re the IT manager of a small to medium-size organization that’s seeking to cut costs, you might consider ZipCentral, a comparable zip file manager that’s available on the Web—for free. Here’s a look at each product.

Best known for providing a familiar Windows interface for .zip files, WinZip allows users to process .zip files and other popular archival/compression formats without a complex command-line interface. And the recently released WinZip 8.0 possesses several distinct enhancements for all WinZip users, from junior to Jedi. For instance, the new Zip and E-mail feature zips documents and folders and attaches the .zip file to an e-mail message without exiting Windows Explorer.

Other key features of WinZip 8.0 include:

  • Quick and easy zip-and-unzip, including support for multi-disk .zip files.
  • Optional Wizard interfaces to step through the process of unzipping, zipping, and installing software distributed in .zip files, as well as decoding and installing software distributed in encoded files.
  • E-mail support, including one-click zip and e-mail from Windows Explorer.
  • Internet file format support: Uuencode, BinHex, CAB, self-extracting CAB, TAR, gzip, and MIME (including AOL’s MIM files).
  • Tight integration with the Windows shell, including drag-and-drop to and from Explorer and zip-and-unzip without leaving Explorer.
  • Install features that help install software, desktop themes, and screen savers distributed in .zip files and archives.
  • Support for self-extracting files, which are ideal for sending .zip files to users who may not have an unzip utility.

WinZip 8.0 requires Windows 95, 98, NT 4.0, or 2000. Individual copies of WinZip are priced at $29, including postage and handling. Quantity discounts and site licensing are available. More information is available at
Follow this link to read a detailed product review of WinZip 8.0.
A free and competitive alternative
But at more than $30 a pop, what if WinZip 8.0 puts the squeeze on your corporate coffers? Craig Smith, an MIS administrator for the Norwood Company in West Chester, PA, said he likes a free alternative from Freeware called ZipCentral. A self-described fan of free browsing software, Smith said ZipCentral lets you create, open, add to, and extract from .zip files.

ZipCentral can also create self-extracting archives and archives spanned across multiple floppy disks. It supports drag-and-drop to and from Windows Explorer or file manager and includes a shell extension.

“I found ZipCentral a lot easier to use than any previous versions of WinZip or ZipMagic, which I have paid for in the past,” Smith said. “[ZipCentral’s] ability to create self-extracting as well as standard .zip files is smooth; no wasted time with frills that usually cause conflicts with other programs.”

Besides being free, Smith said what impressed him about ZipCentral is its functionality and ease of operation. “I don’t use zipping software very often, but I found this to be one of the easiest utility software programs yet,” Smith said. “It doesn’t seem to have as many DLL [dynamic link library] dependencies as some of the other ([programs] have.”

Key features include:

  • ZipCentral runs on Windows 95/98/2000 and Windows NT 4.0.
  • Files created in all popular Zip utilities can be opened in ZipCentral.
  • Files created in ZipCentral can be opened with all popular Zip utilities.
  • ZipCentral lets you create self-extracting archives that can be executed on a Windows 95/98 or NT machine without any special software installed.
  • ZipCentral offers drag-and-drop support to and from the Windows Explorer.
  • An Install function simplifies installation of applications within an archive.
  • ZipCentral includes shell extension to enable archive operations from Windows Explorer.
  • You can open documents or run applications by double-clicking the desired file in the ZipCentral window.
  • ZipCentral lets you span large .zip files across multiple floppy disks.

It’s easy to see how the IT manager of a large organization might be tempted to use a freeware .zip file manager instead of a commercial one, particularly if the free product offers comparable features and performance.

However, Edwin Siebesma, vice president, sales and marketing, WinZip Computing, Inc., cautioned that an individual programmer is not likely to have an organization to back his or her program with technical support and product stability. Additionally, he said, the benefits of utility registration and ease of training should be considered, since an IT manager at a large corporation could have 200 or more employees using a zip utility regularly.

While a freeware utility such as ZipCentral might suffice for personal or small business .zip file needs, Siebesma said decision-makers at large corporations might want to think twice before directing their organizations to make it their definitive compression/decompression utility.

“That’s why we are still in business after nine years,” Siebesma said.
Does your small to medium-size business use a .zip file management system such as WinZip or ZipCentral? Is ZipCentral comparable to WinZip in terms of features and performance? As an IT manager, would you use a freeware product such as ZipCentral at a large corporation? Post a comment below or send us an e-mail.