PKWARE reinvents itself

Published: January 20th, 2012
(Due to a system error, this posting has the wrong byline. It was written by Brian Bloom of ComputerWorld Canada)
Once upon a time, PKZip made my life a lot easier. It did for most of us.

As a young kid during the BBS era of the early 1990s, ZIP files offered the only practical solution to downloads that didn’t take hours. At the time, I was running a 2400 bps modem over a telephone line. I think the largest file I ever downloaded was about a megabyte, which took around 20 minutes, if I recall correctly. That was eternity for someone my age.

Mostly I downloaded files half, or more often, one-quarter that size. All of them came zipped. While I didn’t realize it at the time, the ZIP files served a more important purpose than simply making downloads faster. They also preserved file integrity during the transmission. Remember the days of busy phone lines and bulletin boards with only a single “node”? Once you got through that wait, cursing the *** who was taking so long, you’d finally get your chance to post on the BBS message boards or download your game. The last thing you wanted was a corrupted file at the finish line of this ordeal.  PKZip was a lifesaver.

I unzipped so many files in those days I think I even remember the DOS command-line execution:

C:\>pkunzip –e [FILENAME].zip

Oh, the memories. But 20 years later, I don’t find PKZip to be as indispensable. If I send a file and something goes wrong, I’ll just send it again. No big deal. Things move a lot faster these days. 

But every once in a while, when file integrity is a must, I’ll zip my files to be on the safe side. It still has its place.

So, what’s been happening at PKWARE over the past 20 years? The world wants to know.

A lot, it turns out.

PKWARE has moved far beyond the file compression racket. Today, their main customer base is enterprise clients. They’re knee-deep in the cloud. And you’ll see them use the word “encryption” quite a bit more than “compression” nowadays.

Why? Well, the fundamental reason why an organization archives its files in the first place is to preserve important information. And important information is invariably sensitive information. It all has to be encrypted.

But it’s impossible to compress encrypted files. So PKWARE provides the workaround: you compress and encrypt at the same time. (Don’t ask me how this works).

And then there’s the cloud. Yes, there are very good reasons why you’d want to compress and encrypt data you are letting someone else store for you. It’s safer and it’s cheaper.  Check out this calculator to see just how much cheaper.

I’m glad PKWARE has found a way to stay relevant despite a sea change in technology since ZIP files first emerged, in 1989. It seems like they’ll remain so for years to come.

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