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Thread: Microsoft (Decline Of)

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Zip/Unzip for Windows XP

Chronogical Blog Entries:

Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2005 01:25:30 +1100

I have never been a big fan of a GUI anything. Except, of course, when it is really needed. For example it is needed for CAD, drawing, 3-D modeling and other sophisticated graphics applications.

But the idea that we must dumb-down powerful command line utilities, in order to make them more "palatable", seems to me to be one of the dumber axioms of the GUI prevailing wisdom.

Dumbing down seems to have become the way that software companies attempt lock-in. After all, who wants smart users?

Smart users are bad for business. If they get too smart they might decide to ditch the prevailing proprietary software.

Needless to say, I was rather underwhelmed by WinZip. The bright new dumbed-down technology that became so successful around the turn of the century. It was just a typical point and click GUI attached to an existing Open standard.

Although, I will admit that the WinZip package, formerly the most popular in the world, did include the WZZIP and WZUNZIP command line utilities. They were not promoted very enthusiastically by WinZip Computing Inc, and the working versions (i.e. without the "press Enter to continue ..." prompt) were only available if you paid for them. Nevertheless they were a concession to the fact that sometimes (for instance when writing a script), a command line utility is the best option.

And as I explore my borrowed dumbed-down XP PC, I discover that Microsoft, the incredible blob of the Soft universe has moved to gobble up the small niche that WinZip managed to carve out of the software market.

That's because Windows XP includes built in support for zip files ...

Another case of Microsoft cutting off the little guy's oxygen!

I see that Winzip Computing Inc still claim to be the most popular compression utility for Windows. How long they can continue to make such a claim, as the uptake of XP continues, remains to be see.

If I was underwhelmed by WinZip, I am seriously unimpressed with Microsoft's efforts at supporting Zip files.

Typically, the XP support is GUI only. The interface is dramatically dumbed down. It attempts to disguise the fact that a .zip archive is a file. When looking at a zip file with Windows Explorer, the software tries to represent the file as a folder ...

Most amazing of all is the slow speed of operations on the archive. On one occasion I needed to copy seventeen hundred small files into an archive. This operation on a Unix machine, even a small under-nourished Intel box, would take a couple of seconds. On a Pentium 4 Windows XP machine it took almost half an hour! (It actually crashed half of the way through, so the total elapsed time would have been more than half an hour).

True to form, lots of effort had been put in by the Redmond development team in order to make the pretty flying documents icon look nice and smooth! Because during the entire operation, the thing was flying between the GUI representations of the folder and the zip archive.

Nevertheless despite the fact that little pictures showed documents flying around from one window to another, they did nothing of the sort! In fact they crawled into the archive with all the vigour of terminally poisoned snails.

After a couple of more experiences like this, I decided I'd had enough. I went to the Info-Zip website and found where I could get the zip and unzip binaries. I don't like getting binaries for Windows machines. However, I believe that I can still trust bona fide Open Source sites like Info-Zip. (at least I can see the source code!).

And just out of curiosity I went back to the same folder that had taken such a long time to compress, and tried the zip utility doing the same task.

Actually there were 1,762 files ...

I typed the following command:

	zip c:\tmp\test *.html

The little zip program, so fast on a Unix box, struggled a bit under Windows XP. It thought about the command for about 5 seconds (Ok, I guess that's why some people disparagingly refer to Windows as WinDoze).

Then having gathered its' wits, it set to work, and slurped up all 1,762 files in less than 15 seconds! Still almost ten times slower than a Unix box but orders of magnitude better than the Microsoft offering.

Now the question remains in my mind, if this little open source utility, using the same hardware, the same operating system, can do a job hundred times faster than the Microsoft built in program, which is actually part of the operating system (or so they tell us), and as such should benefit from all the efficiency savings such close integration entails .... Then ... what the hell is the Microsoft program doing?

I shudder to think of the possibilities ...

Maybe there is hope for WinZip ... The only real competition seems to be Info-Zip. Without the Microsoft logo, the offering from Microsoft would not be considered competitive.

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Copyright     2005, Gerry Patterson. All Rights Reserved.