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Beyond .zip: Secrets of the Archive Utility

By Kirk McElhearn
May 1, 2012 09:31 AM ET

Macworld - If you've ever sent, or received, a big file via email, you've undoubtably encountered a zip file. Double-click one of these and it expands to show files hidden inside. A zip file, or archive, takes up less space than the original files, so that your documents, images and whatnot are easier to send or store. But what do you do if a file won't expand or you come across a different type of archive? Here are answers to frequently asked questions about working with compressed files on Mac OS X.

Q: How does compression work?

A: File compression technology looks for repeated data and writes archives that eliminate these repetitions to save space. You'll find some files shrink a lot--compressed text files can be half the size of the originals--and others not so much. If you try to compress a JPEG file, for instance, you won't see much benefit, as the JPEG format already includes compression.

Q: How do I make a zip file on my Mac?

A: To compress a file, a folder, or a group of files in Mac OS X, select the item(s) in the Finder and then either choose File -> Compress Item Name, or right-click on the selected item(s) and choose Compress Item Name. If you compress a single file, the process will be very quick. If you compress a large folder containing several gigabytes of data, it could take several minutes.

Q: How do I open a zip file that I've received?

A: To uncompress a zip archive, double-click it. A system utility called Archive Utility leaps into action automatically. Archive Utility can work with many types of archives--others you might encounter include .bz, .gz and .tar. You can tell if it will work when the file is labeled with the standard zip icon.

Q: I'd like to have my archives expanded to a specific folder. Can I do this?

A: First, find Archive Utility: it's located at /System/Library/Core Services/Archive Utility. Double-click its icon, and it appears in your Dock. A menu will display, but it won't show any window. Choose Archive Utility -> Preferences.

Here you'll see the option to choose where expanded files are placed. By default, these files expand into their current folder (or directory). To change the default destination click on the Save Expanded Files menu and choose Into. In the sheet that appears, select a new folder. For example, if you often download files and would like to expand archives into a folder other than your Downloads folder, you can create a separate folder for these archives.

Q: I've got old zip archives all over my hard drive. Is there a way to get rid of them automatically?

Originally published on www.macworld.com. Click here to read the original story.
Reprinted with permission from Macworld.com. Story copyright 2012 Mac Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.
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