A History: What’s in a ZIP File?

One of the most widely used archive formats in existence is the ZIP file. Used to archive a variety of file formats, it allows users to compress collections of files or file folders for easy downloading and uploading.

For those less technical, they’re like data balloons, allowing users to “deflate” data to make it easier to transport. This was especially necessary for floppy disks (does anyone still remember those?), which had very limited data capacity. But in today’s world, they’re great for exchanging information quickly over the Internet.

ZIP Origin Story

The story behind ZIP is an interesting one. Created by Phil Katz, an innovative programmer, and his company PKware in the mid-1980s, ZIP did better and quicker what a similar program did. Originally he called it ZIP to infer it was faster than the software it ended up replacing, which it was.

Its beginnings were controversial. As Katz had used the ARC template from the creator’s bulletin board – the 1980s precursor to websites – the company took umbrage, and sued him. The end result from the trial is that ZIP has been in the public domain since 1989, predating the modern Internet.


During the 1990s, ZIP became one of the most popular freeware programs available. It was only a matter of time before Microsoft took heed. Not surprising, as ZIP files:

  • save storage space on the server
  • decrease the time it takes for you to download
  • keep files organized in a single ZIP file
  • compacts images into one file

Although its creator initially snubbed the software giant, it was inevitable that this innovative bit of code would eventually be co-opted by Microsoft, who began incorporating it into Windows 1998 in the late 1990s.

Opening Your ZIP

Just double click on the ZIP file. It’s that easy. Your computer shows all the folders and files within without additional software.

There are a number of tools these days that you can use to compress or decompress ZIP files, with recent ratings for Windows 10 users:

  1. BreeZip
  2. Cool File Viewer
  3. Rar Zip Extractor Pro
  4. 9 ZIP
  5. RAR Opener
  6. UnRar Windows
  7. 8 Zip
  8. RAR Extractor
  9. Free ZIP RAR Extractor
  10. Any Zip

Top Three ZIP Tools for Windows 10

Although I don’t have space to evaluate all of these, I’ll give you a briefing on the top three for Windows 10.

The most popular RAR file extractor app on the Microsoft Store is BreeZip. With its interface identical to File Explorer, it’s easy to use and supports rar, zip, 7z, iso, bzip2, gzip, tar, xz, and other file formats. It helps encrypt files with passwords, though you’ll need to use BreeZip to extract them.

But everything else aside, what one Reddit user says about how it “manages to unzip and unpack files that the built-in utility cannot” pretty much says it all. And what’s more, it’s freely downloadable.

More versatile than BreeZIP and supporting over 450 file formats, Cool File Viewer will help you recover files compressed in an unknown format. It also allows users to preview files on the user interface. The down side is that it costs infinitely more than other software used to compress or recover from archives, which are mostly freeware.

Another popular freeware ZIP tool is Rar Zip Extractor Pro, which helps with multiple files and folders. Claiming the highest compression ratio, the program supports 7z, ZIP, RAR, CAB, TAR, ISO, and other formats. It’s got an easily used interface and offers password protection too.

Additional Features

Besides unzipping and zipping ZIP files, a number of newer ZIP offspring allow:

  • encryption and password protection
  • ability to extract files directly to Google Drive
  • opening ZIP files on mobile devices

Converting ZIP Files

Just like you can’t convert JPG format into MP4 video format, you can’t convert a ZIP file into PDF or a Word document. ZIP is your container, and you first need to extract files – unzipping them – before converting them.

Since ZIP is an archiving format, it’s easily convertible to the following:

  • RAR
  • 7Z
  • ISO
  • TGZ
  • TAR

Or Windows derivatives WinRAR or WinZip, for that matter.

For smaller files, you can go to an online site like, which you can also do for free, though you’ll have to upload the whole ZIP file before converting. For larger ZIP files, there’s Zip2ISO – for ZIP to ISO format – or IZarc, which allows conversion to multiple formats.

Cracking Passwords

As a final note, if you’re anything like me, forgetting passwords is a pastime. I don’t have to tell you how extraordinarily annoying it is to not be able to open and access a file I’ve saved, whatever its format. You can do a quick search to find a free program online to help, but I’ll save you the time. Like an online mugger, ZIP Password Cracker Pro simply removes your password protection.