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Working with Compressed Files

File compression utilities make it possible to pack large files into smaller spaces and to combine multiple files into a single archive. Windows users typically encounter compressed files in one of two formats: the industry-standard Zip format and Microsoft's proprietary Cabinet File format.

Extracting from a Cabinet File

Setup files for Windows and other Microsoft products are stored in the Cabinet File format with the .cab extension. Setup programs process Cabinet files automatically, without requiring any utilities.

In an Explorer window, Cabinet files appear as folders. Double-click a Cabinet file's icon to browse its contents. Select one or more files from the Cabinet file and right-click to display an abbreviated shortcut menu with only two choices: use Copy to place the selected files on the Clipboard so you can paste them into a folder, or choose the Extract command and choose a destination folder directly. You cannot rename or delete individual files in a Cabinet file, nor can you create a new Cabinet file or add files to an existing one using Windows Explorer.


Windows also includes a command-line utility with which you can pull one or more compressed files out of a compressed Cabinet file. This capability is useful when Windows won't boot and you need to replace a lost or corrupted system file to reinstall or repair Windows. The Extract tool also lets you list the contents of all Cabinet files in a given folder so you can determine the exact location of the file you're looking for. To see detailed instructions on this command, go to an MS-DOS prompt and enter the command EXTRACT /?.

Compressing and Decompressing Zip Files

The Zip compression format is a widely used standard for distributing files over the Internet. Windows Me includes built-in support for Zip files, although it is not enabled by default. Microsoft has inexplicably buried this feature (first introduced in the Windows 98 Plus Pack and included as a standard feature in Windows 98 Second Edition). In Microsoft-speak, the feature is called Compressed Folders.

To install support for Zip files, open Control Panel's Add/Remove Programs option and click the Windows Setup tab. From the Components list, select System Tools; then click the Details button and check the Compressed Folders box. Click OK to add the feature.

When Compressed Folders support is installed, Windows enables you to double-click a Zip file icon and open it in a folder window. You can perform any of the following actions:

  • To create a new, empty Zip archive, right-click any empty space in an Explorer window or on the desktop and choose New, Compressed Folder.

  • To add files to a Zip archive, drag them onto the archive file's icon or into the Compressed Folders window.

  • To delete a file from an archive, open the compressed file in a folder window, select the files to be deleted, and press Delete (or right-click and use the Delete option on the shortcut menu).

  • To extract a subset of files from an archive, open the compressed file in a folder window, select the files to be extracted, and drag them to their new location. (You can also use the Copy option from the right-click shortcut menu, and then paste them into a new folder.)

  • To extract all files from a Zip archive, right-click the compressed file's icon and choose Extract All. The Extract Wizard allows you to select a destination folder and enter a password (see Figure 3.22).

  • Figure 3.22 To extract the contents of a Zip file (a Compressed Folder, in Microsoft-speak), use this Extract Wizard.

  • To encrypt the contents of a Zip file with a password, right-click and choose the Encrypt option.


Although the Compressed Folders feature provides perfectly adequate support for the Zip standard, many people prefer third-party programs, which can do a better job. I recommend the $29 WinZip (http://www.winzip.com/) or the $49 TurboZip (http://www.filestream.com/).


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