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Compressing and Decompressing Files

Files are getting bigger.

If you want to transfer a really big file to another computer, you can run into all sorts of problems. If you're copying the file to floppy disk, the file might be too big to fit on a single floppy disk. If you're sending the file via e-mail, the file might be so big it exceeds your ISP's limits on attachment size.

No matter how you look at it, big files are a bother.

Fortunately, Windows XP includes a way to make big files smaller. Compressed folders take big files and compress them down in size, which makes them easier to copy or move. After the file has been transferred, you uncompress the file back to its original state.

Compressing a File

Compressing a file is a relatively easy task from within any Windows folder. You can even compress multiple files into a single compressed folder.

Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Select the file(s) you want to compress.

  2. Right-click the selected file(s) and select Send To, Compressed Folder.

That's it—that's all you have to do! Windows creates a new folder, such as the one in Figure 3.19, that contains compressed versions of the file(s) you selected. You can now copy, move, or e-mail this folder, which is a lot smaller than the original file(s).

Figure 3.19 A compressed folder—notice the little "zipper" on the folder icon.

The compressed folder is actually a file with a .ZIP extension, so it can be used with other compression/decompression programs, such as WinZip. You can add files to a compressed folder by dragging and dropping them onto the compressed folder icon.


If you install a third-party Zip program on your system, Windows removes Compressed Folders from the Send To menu and replaces it with a link to the new compression program.

One thing to keep in mind about XP's compressed folders. While the Extraction Wizard can extract multiple-disk .ZIP files, Windows XP cannot create multiple-disk files. If you need to create a compressed folder that's too big to fit on a single floppy disk, you have to use a third-party utility, such as WinZip. (By the way, you can download WinZip from


To better identify compressed folders, you can configure Windows XP to display them in blue. Just open the Folder Options dialog box, select the View tab, and check the "Display compressed files and folders with alternate color options.

Extracting Files

The process of decompressing a file is actually an extraction process. That's because you extract the original file(s) from the compressed folder.

In Windows XP, this process is eased by the use of the Extraction Wizard. This is how it works:

  1. Right-click the compressed folder and select Extract All.

  2. When the Extraction Wizard launches, click the Next button.

  3. When the Select a Destination page appears, select which folder you want to extract the files to, and then click the Next button.

  4. The wizard now extracts the files, and displays the Extraction Complete page. Click the Finish button.


If the compressed folder comprised a multiple-disk set, the Extraction Wizard prompts you to insert each disk in the set, as needed.

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