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Do users know what to do with Zip files?

If I have a web site where users need to download multiple files at one time (such as documents or pictures), will most users know what to do with a Zip file?

Do any good alternatives exist to compressed files if several files need to be downloaded at one time (other than an e-mail message with multiple attachments)?
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
How about self-extracting zip files?

That way the user doesn't need to have a .zip reader.
Mr. Analogy {Shrinkwrap µISV} Send private email
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
I think both OS X and Windows ship with zip-capabilities now.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Self-extracting zip files aren't much use these days.  Too many firewalls will block them.
Chris in Edmonton Send private email
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Yay, ZIP files!  I love them.  If the creator has any consideration at all, he'll have zipped up a subdirectory structure along with the files.

I use Windows a lot, though.  Still, PKZIP under DOS was also very effective.  Even GZIP under Unix/Linux works well.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
No, they don't know what zip files are.  People are completely clueless about the most (seemingly) elementary computer tasks, such as "navigating to a URL", "making any sort of calculations with Excel", "using Word as anything more than a typewriter", "manipulating files in any way", and as you're about to find out, "using ZIP files".

I once sent out an email with 5 PDF reports, and had the *brilliant* idea of zipping them up first.  Trickling in over the next day I had several different people ask me "why the reports didn't work this month".  They worked, only the people asking didn't know what to do when the "compressed folder" window popped up.  Yes, they're all running XP.

Attempting to write user manuals for this sort of people is impossible, because doing something simple like "save the file to your 'My Documents' folder" takes 10 pages of shrunken screenshots and text.  It's incredible what types of people are totally computer-illiterate.

Now I'm beginning to understand why every company has "beginner Word" "beginner Excel" and "beginner Access" classes.  It's just unfortunate no one's honest enough to offer a "remedial computing 001: the mouse, the keyboard, and logging in to your various account(s)".  Then they could follow up with "002: Files and Folders".  You laugh, but each of these courses would take about 3 days to complete for novice users.
pds Send private email
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
"i downloaded it from the site. now what?"

"ok. double click the file"

"where is it?"

"where's what? the file?"


"i'm not sure. where did you save it?"

"i dunno"

"ok, well we can find it easily from windows explorer. search for app.exe in there"

"what's windows explorer?"

"just press the windows key and e to bring it up"

"nothing happened"

"what do you mean? do you see windows explorer?"

"i dunno"

"what do you see?"

"my desktop"

"that's it?"


"so, when you pressed the windows key and e, nothing happened?"


"um, ok"

"wait, do i hold down the windows key and press e?"


"ok. i see something now"
starving coder
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Answering your question:  some segment of your users don't know what 'files' are, much less know what a Zip file is.  For most of your users you will have no problem.  For any of the 'remedial types', you're going to have to have something (user documentation) that will walk them through the entire process.  So offer it as a Zip file, and then have a link to the page that says "What's this?" and explains what they'll have to do to get to the contents of the zip file.

Don't try too hard--just remember that they probably don't even know what files are or how to 'store' them locally--so just do the bare minimum necessary.  Sometimes there's just too much they don't know.
pds Send private email
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
I see that 'starving coder' knows exactly what I'm talking about.  Yes, them.
pds Send private email
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
CodeClarity > If I have a web site where users need to download multiple files at one time (such as documents or pictures), will most users know what to do with a Zip file?

Depends on your audience. Most won't.

> Do any good alternatives exist to compressed files if several files need to be downloaded at one time (other than an e-mail message with multiple attachments)?

Fuse them into an installer or self-extracting EXE, and send the link by e-mail, with simple step-by-step instructions on how to go from here to there. If need be, provide a flash animation or a set of pictures on how to do this on the site.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Not too many corporate email systems are going to let an EXE or installer of any sort get through.
Arlo Rempher
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
It seems strange to us, but I would agree that many users really don't know what to do with Zip files. As was pointed out before, many users don't know what files are or what folders are (really!). So the concept of a zip file - i.e. a "file-that-contains-files" (which is not a folder) is rather lost on them.
Daniel S
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Why a zip file at all?  You can get an installer, put in silent install mode if you want, then when they open click the file from your webiste, tell them to click run, then it will install, they never had to click a thing. The installer is the way to go, even 2 levels of installers if your installer has to come with other files.  It just makes sense.  And getting a user to click Run when they download helps a lot, but of course, not having the file on their computer in the future could be problematic in itself.

Don't forget to have the program auto-run after install.

Oh, and then have the program do everything it's supposed to do with one click.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Back about 30 years ago when computer usage was much less common than today, I knew an actual MIT graduate who was in a science graduate department at another name school, who it took several hours to get to understand what a file was.

OK, if it takes that long with someone like that, imagine someone with zero technical training.
This Actually Happened - I kid you not
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
I generally won't download a zipped file.  It has nothing to do with ignorance, as I feel completely comfortable with using them.  Back when you had to type pkunzip to unzip stuff zipping files made sense.  Modems were slow and floppies were small.  Things had to be zipped if you wanted to move them from computer to computer.

Now bandwidth is greater and people can burn cds or use usb memory sticks.  Zipping up a file is rarely a benefit.  If I go to a site and see a zipped file who does it benefit?  Not me, as the file will download quickly and if I have to wait more than a few seconds I can tab to another browser and find something else to read.  It only benefits the server owner.  I don't care that much about a random server's bandwidth.

I on the other hand am left with having to think to keep my desktop from being cluttered.  Do I want to use the file from the zipped folder?  Do I want to pull it out and put it somewhere?  Am I going to delete the zip file or keep it?  Whatever I am downloading has to be good to warrant me looking at it if it is a zip file.

I have occasionally used zip files to get under a max email size but in most cases you have to change the extension so that it gets past the filter, and then the guy on the other side has to change it back.  Again, a hassle.
Tom Cahalan Send private email
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
==>For most of your users you will have no problem.  For any of the 'remedial types' ...

Bzzt! Wrong answer, thanks for playing. <grin>

You got that backwards. *Most* of your users will be the 'remedial types'. The few-and-far-between will be the individual that will know how to manipulate the zip file to do what s/he wants.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
I just had to send a zip file with a couple of doc files and a bunch of images to several people using different OSes.

In OSX, after you double click a zip file (i.e. "open" it) it automatically extracts its contents into a folder with the same name as the zip file. You can the open that folder and work with files normally.

In XP, a window pops-up with all files inside the zip in it It looks just like a folder, but it *does not behave like one*. For example, you can't open one image from there and then cycle through all images in the image viewer. You have to select all files first and then drag them onto desktop. (or into another folder)

Guess which OS the people who wrote me back with "the file you sent is not working properly" problems were using?
Thursday, November 24, 2005
well i guess only a few knows how though. when i was still new to the "internet" i didnt even know what .zip file is...
professional web design Send private email
Friday, November 25, 2005
"In OSX, after you double click a zip file (i.e. "open" it) it automatically extracts its contents into a folder with the same name as the zip file. You can the open that folder and work with files normally."

That behavior would be really annoying to me. How does the OS know that I want to extract the WHOLE archive? I often work with extremely large zip files and need to be able to get at just one or two of the embedded files at a time. Automatically unzipping the whole archive into a folder and automatically naming it sounds pretty darn ballsy to me...
Turtle Rustler
Monday, November 28, 2005
> How does the OS know that I want to
> extract the WHOLE archive?

Suppose the OS can either act like OS X, or like Win XP.  Now suppose that you have 50 users, whom you observe so you can decide which method works better.

Do you think (on average) that most users would want the whole archive, or do you think that the average user works with massive archives and only wants one file?

If you work with compressed archives regularly, get a serious tool for the job.  The OS comes with bare-minimum support for the average user.
Monday, November 28, 2005
The built-in Zip support in XP is pretty good, actually. You can open, edit and save a file inside a Zip, and it all works as expected. The only time you have a problem is when you do something that requires all the files in the archive, such as the image viewer exaple given above.
Even search works inside Zip files, although it's dog slow. There is a hack available to disable that.
The built-in zip support can even open with multi-disk-spanning archives correctly.
I have only two complaints: I haven't been able to find a way to *create* spanned archives, and (this frustrates me) there is no command-line support.
Raj Chaudhuri Send private email
Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I completely agree with you about the remidial stuff.  Back in the mid-90s a friend of mine worked for a company where they gave him a certain "training" budget for learning computer stuff.  He doesn't like classes/structured environments so he asked me if I would teach him computer stuff from zero-MS Office over the course of several months in 2 hours per week sessions.

ANYHOO, my point is that it forced me, as an advanced computer user to really think about how to teach someone to use computers from square one.

What I ended up doing was doing the first few lessons in a DOS window (Windows 95 was new back then) so he could learn about drives, folders and files.  Once he caught on to that we went into explorer and I showed him the Windows representation of the stuff he saw in DOS.  This really laid a great foundation for him to learn the other stuff from there.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Be sure to download your zip file into the user's temp directory. That's a really good programmer trick.

Another is to put the intsructions for unzipping the file in a text file INSIDE the zipped file. Hey, we sent you the instructions!

And if your download will only work with software version xx.y, be sure to put that in the README file (which is inside the zipped file, of course).

Users are so dumb, eh?

I Really liked the one about putting the instructions in a FLASH DEMO!! They'll be tied up for HOURS trying to find the plug-in then tied up again while your demo is LOADING!!!

Too much!
Wednesday, December 07, 2005

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