PKWare and WinZip Call Truce in Zip Format Wars

PKWare and WinZip, companies that have been competitors in the world of the popular Zip file format, have called a truce on the latest versions of their products in hopes of cultivating greater interoperability between the two companies’ file-compression and decryption technologies.

As we reported last November in the TechNewsWorld feature “The End of .Zip Compression as We Know It,” the Zip file format was fracturing because the major players were heading in different, proprietary directions. Highly used in enterprise communications, the many flavors of Zip technology were in jeopardy of being overrun by another competitor’s single, open standard.

However, in a surprise move this week, both companies announced new products that are interoperable with one another’s. Gartner research director Martin Reynolds told TechNewsWorld that the companies are taking a lesson from history, which has shown that competition over standards and resulting incompatibility can kill a technology or trend.

“Different standards just are not helpful,” Reynolds said. “As a user, I just want one thing to have to use.”

Zipping Up

Despite resistance to a single standard for Zip compression in the past, PKWare said it will license its SecureZIP and PKZip reader technology to others, including WinZip. Meanwhile, WinZip said its WinZip 9.0 Beta 3 now supports decryption of files encrypted by PKZip for Windows XP Professional.

“We’re fully committed to ensuring easy adoption of SecureZip,” said PKWare president and chief operating officer Tim Kennedy.

“The incorporation of SecureZip technology by Zip vendors such as WinZip, the expanded PKZip Reader availability and our implementation of SecureZip on all major platforms are important elements of our strategy to make enterprise-class data security easy, cost effective and easy to achieve,” said Kennedy.

Join or Die

IDC research director Charles Kolodgy said the licensing strategy and cooperation will allow SecureZIP to emerge as “the de facto standard for exchanging information securely across various infrastructures and organizations.”

Gartner’s Reynolds said PKWare and WinZip might see themselves as competitors, but they are really both in the same boat. By joining together, the analyst said, the two companies are ensuring the future of the compression and file-exchange technology they both promote.

“Essentially, you’ve got to recognize the only way to succeed with this stuff is to make it available to all and make money off of improving the technology,” Reynolds said.

Heading Off Threat

Reynolds also said that although Microsoft has not yet flexed its muscles in pushing its own competing technology, the software giant is likely to do so in the future, forcing smaller, specialty players to join up.

“By banding together and having a standard like this, it keeps [PKWare and WinZip] from getting rolled over by Microsoft,” Reynolds said. “It makes it less likely that Microsoft will drive them out of business.”

Yankee Group analyst Michael Kelleher agreed the moves toward Zip interoperability are efforts by PKWare and WinZip to protect themselves and their industry.

Pressure on Compression

Kelleher, however, told TechNewsWorld that the well-used Zip compression technology might also be threatened by the increasing availability of less-expensive bandwidth — which makes compression less necessary.

Still, Kelleher said, the interoperability moves by PKWare and WinZip — which he called “a leaf out of Adobe’s book” in reference to the software company’s successful promotion of the PDF specification — have a history of working.

“There are enough examples out there where standards have worked, and companies have found it’s quite lucrative when they get together,” Kelleher said.

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