WinZip 10 Pro

With new compression algorithms and automated zip jobs, WinZip consolidates its position in the desktop data backup market.

February 3, 2006

6 Min Read
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Do a search for zipping tools on the Internet, and you'll find plenty listed. But the category, launched by Philip Katz and PKZip, is today dominated by WinZip, with 150 million downloads to its credit. With version 10, WinZip takes a major step toward being a full-fledged desktop backup tool, particularly for small and medium enterprises, rather than just another file-compression program.

WinZip now comes in two versions, Standard and Pro. I tested the Pro edition, which, like the standard version, is distributed as shareware; the download for both is the same, the only difference is the registration code. WinZip has always been distinguished by its tight integration with Windows, and its easy-to-use interface. In addition to backup enhancements, version 10 features the new PPMd open-source compression algorithm. PPM stands for "prediction by partial matching," where the probability of the next character in a sequence is predicted based on the previous characters. PPMd compression results in highly compressed files of certain formats, but getting there is a compute-intensive process.

WinZip Pro Compression Formats Click to enlarge in another window

Is PPMd Good?So, how good is the new compression technique in WinZip 10? I tested it using two 100 MB folders, each with a couple of subfolders containing multiple files. The first folder had standard productivity files--153 in total, including 68 .doc and .rtf files, 49 .ppt files (some with heavy graphics), 22 .pdf files and 14 .xls files. The second folder had 19 media filesmade up of 30 MB of MP3s and 70 MB of MPEG4s.

Both these folders were subjected to each of the compression options available in WinZip. PPMd did produce a significantly higher rate of compression with the productivity files, but took much longer than the other options for the job. On the media files, the impact of PPMd compression was less marked, while time and CPU utilization continued to be high. Unless that extra bit of compression is a must--such as when trying to fit an extra-large file onto a DVD--you're better off going with bzip2 compression for media files. It does almost as good a job in less than half the time of PPMd.

I also compared the PPMd performance with the compression options in other popular zipping programs, including PKZip, WinRAR and 7-Zip, using the 100-MB productivity files folder. Winzip using PPMd did show improved performance compared to its competitors. But note that PPMd is supported only by WinZip 10 and not by older versions, and most other compression programs do not support it yet. So, if you are sending PPMd archives to someone, you need to ensure the recipient has WinZip 10 installed. Also, self-extracting archives cannot be created from PPMd or bzip2 zip files.

Look and Feel

Additions have been made to the basic interface, with a new Explorer view in addition to the conventional classic and wizard views. The Explorer view is useful for viewing the structure of zip files with multiple subfolders, in much the same way as using Windows Explorer.PPMd compression aside, the biggest additions to WinZip are about automating repetitive tasks, such as backing up email or a particular folder. The software now can write a zip file directly to a CD or DVD, or FTP it to another computer or Web site. It can also be set to write the zip file across multiple floppies, CDs or DVD media. Writing directly to CD or DVD is a two-stage process; a zip file is first created locally and then written to the media. This feature works only in Windows XP, and requires some tweaking before it acquires the functionality of the rest of version 10. Presently, it does not support DVD-RW and has to be started as a separate item from the file menu.

Zipping a single directory directly to media is a breeze, but zipping files in multiple subdirectories right to a CD/DVD is a bit more complicate. You have to go into the first level directory and, keeping *.* in the select file field, click "Add with wild cards." Given these issues, you may be better off using version 10 to zip your files and then your favorite burning application (or Windows XP itself) to burn them to disc.

Automating Zipping

For automation, version 10 ships with a set of predefined zip jobs as a part of the Job Wizard, including zipping your desktop, your e-mail (in Outlook, for a default installation), the My Documents folder and Windows Favorites. These are available from the WinZip menu bar itself. Creating further Zip jobs is also easy. From the Job menu, select create and name the job. After that, it is a six-stage process, and in the sixth stage, you have the option to schedule the job to run regularly and whether or not to FTP the resulting Zip file to a remote server. If you choose to do so, you have to provide the FTP destination, user name and password. This lets mobile users in a small business setup, who may not have advanced backup software, back up important user files to a remote server. But don't mistake WinZip 10 for a full-fledged PC backup tool. It can't zip up files that are in use, nor can it write to media like tape.

WinZip 10 also allows for flexibility in backup jobs. You can define a full backup, an update with newer copies, a differential backup, an incremental backup or a custom backup, making version 10 good enough for almost any data backup activity. Adding further flexibility to zip jobs is the ability to append the current date, time, and so on, to prevent overwriting, and to place the file in a similarly named subdirectory. Jobs can also be written to a user's standard directories, such as My Documents or My Music, making enterprise-wide deployment of zip jobs easy. As the version 10 help files point out, the utility does not have the flexibility of Windows scheduler, and for more complex scheduling, the zip job file can be passed on to Windows Scheduler.

Also of interest is the Favorite Zip folder, which looks like an attempt to implement a variation of a hard disk search, ala Google Desktop Search. This feature collects all Zip files from across your folders into one list, but it's still in its infancy and not much use in its current form.All in all, version 10 is an interesting upgrade to a useful tool and, even without PPMd, the automation features of WinZip 10 Pro should be enough to warrant an upgrade.

Krishna Kumar is the editor of PCQuest, the largest circulated IT user magazine in India, and heads Cybermedia Labs, its affiliated vendor-independent testing and reviewing facility.

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