How common is familiartity with .ZIP archives?
June 18, 2008 3:22 AM   Subscribe

Is it safe to assume that anyone professionally employed in a computer-using job (secretary, assistant, ect.) is familiar with ZIP archives? What about the public at large?

I was using LHZ almost 20 years ago, but most of my (less technically-inclined) friends have acquired their computer literacy in a more casual/disinterested manner - I cut my teeth on a lengthy textfile CLI tutorial that covered this stuff; I'd imagine it's covered by whatever courses today's 16-22 year-olds have to take, but how did contemporary ~30+somethings figure this stuff out, assuming it wasn't covered in the rudimentary computer courses we took (think: classrooms full of IBM PS/2's, Windows 3.1, and the LOGO turtle)..

This question is probably more applicable to Windows users, as Mac's tend to decompress archives to the Desktop by default.
posted by unmake to Computers & Internet (29 answers total)
Everyone I know knows what they are, and windows (Vsita and XP) handle zips without any additional software, so you can look at the files inside without downloading any additional software. It's not any more difficult to use then a regular file folder (unless you want to do something exotic, like multipart file spanning or something)
posted by delmoi at 3:30 AM on June 18, 2008

As said above, modern operating systems (Windows XP, Vista, Mac OSX and probably even Ubuntu) will cope natively with ZIP folders so that even if you didn't know what they were or how they were created, clicking on them will reveal the hidden treasure.

Even before XP, I suspect most computers had WinZip installed to cope with them.
posted by gkhewitt at 3:37 AM on June 18, 2008

Is it safe to assume that anyone professionally employed in a computer-using job (secretary, assistant, ect.) is familiar with ZIP archives? What about the public at large?


Windows has natively supported zip files (aka compressed folders) since at least 2001.
posted by wfrgms at 3:38 AM on June 18, 2008

Is it safe to assume that anyone professionally employed in a computer-using job (secretary, assistant, ect.) is familiar with ZIP archives? What about the public at large?

In my experience (dealing with office assistants and people employed to update web sites) it is never safe to assume anything about other users abilities. Always provide instructions (just in case) and assume they know nothing regarding what you are asking of them.
posted by twistedonion at 4:36 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

My experience is that they don't at all.

We deal with a large user base as well as their support staff you one would think would be familiar with ZIP files- we often need to explain how to unpack a zip file.
posted by mattoxic at 5:11 AM on June 18, 2008

I think secretaries and assistants will know what zip archives are, but the people they work for don't always know that and you may sometimes need to work with them directly. While it is true that Windows natively supports zip, not all e-mail programs handle this gracefully, and they may be used to be able to simply double click the icon in the e-mail to get a (usually Word, Excel or Powerpoint) document. Zip may be confusing.

I would definitely not assume people know how to zip something themselves. The amount of productivity lost by people lacking basic computer skills is quite astounding.
posted by davar at 5:21 AM on June 18, 2008

I work with many people (assistants & secretaries) who must use computers all day to do their jobs, but they don't know what a zip file is or how to open it, because they never use zip files in their job and don't use a computer for anything else. My experience is that a lot of these people who don't really use computers at home have only learned how to use a computer to the extent that they need to complete their job, and their computer ability ends there.
posted by Polychrome at 5:36 AM on June 18, 2008

Absolutely echoing what everyone from twistedonion on say. I've even had to explain how to right-click (and no, she wasn't a Mac user).
posted by JaredSeth at 5:41 AM on June 18, 2008

Yeah, I wouldn't assume anything. I'm almost certain the receptionist/secretary at my job would have to call tech support if she ever got something so complicated and unfamiliar as a zip file, whatever that is. And a lot of thirty-, forty- and fiftysomethings I've known at work would probably be completely lost as well, regardless of whether they're on a Mac or PC.

(You also can't assume that people would think to ask someone else at work, either—if you have someone anything like my receptionist, they would probably be more comfortable calling tech support than actually bothering to use the talents or knowledge of anyone else in the office.)
posted by limeonaire at 5:47 AM on June 18, 2008

.ZIP files will become self-extracting .EXE files with little effort.

And if there's one thing dumb users can do ... it's click on attachments. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:58 AM on June 18, 2008

Yeah, you can pretty much unzip stuff by double clicking on windows for the last decade now.

Occasionally I run into people in technical fields who are like "what is this file?? what do i do" but I don't think we need an archive revolution (or even detailed instructions to accompany every zip, which would be insulting to roughly 80% of recipients) to encompass their very special needs.
posted by shownomercy at 6:09 AM on June 18, 2008

I sometimes joke with one of my graphic designer buddies that to many people, if a file won't open in MS Word, it might as well not exist.

Within the past month I have encountered individuals who don't know that a jpeg can be saved or copied from the web by right clicking it, don't know that "BCC:" is an email field that can actually be utilized by a sender, and presume that a file or attachment is simply lost into oblivion if it doesn't show up on their desktops.

I assume nothing when it comes to the computer literacy of others.
posted by imjustsaying at 6:10 AM on June 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

Then, we figured it out by

1. punching keys at random
2. calling up your brother in law who worked in a tech firm and asking him to walk you through it
3. taking courses offered by local libraries and other nfps
4. asking our 8 year old to show us how to do it

Now, we figure it out by

1. AskMe
2. web search (then, there was no web)

I'm 52. First computer (in 1983) was a TI with 64 KB of RAM run on a floppy disk (remember those?) No interwebs, no tutorials, no IT department. You guys are pussies. That was uphill in both directions, man.
posted by nax at 6:59 AM on June 18, 2008

Is it safe to assume


I memorably had one client who could not figure out how to open a .txt file from me.

Some people regard their computers as bottomless toolboxes. Others regard them as black boxes, and only use them according to a script—"if I need to do XYZ, first I do this, then that." If they've never had to deal with a zip archive before, they don't have a script for it, and they won't know what to do with it.
posted by adamrice at 7:11 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Working at a large law firm where there is a computer at every desk (and about two dozen unassigned computers) I can safely say that the majority of the people here don't know what a ZIP file is and if it weren't for the fact that the icon looked sort of like a folder and acted sort of like a folder (which makes everyone assume it is a folder and treats it like such), the few zip files we have around here would cause major headaches.

Regarding files not opening in Word, I have to agree with imjustsaying, I can't go a week without someone saying such and such file is corrupt because they open everything they get (Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, etc) in Word.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:15 AM on June 18, 2008

To dust off an old chestnut, you know what happens when you assume?

I know people who use a computer every day and aren't 100% sure how to turn it on and off.

"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."--H.L. Mencken
posted by box at 7:16 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

.ZIP files will become self-extracting .EXE files with little effort.

And if there's one thing dumb users can do ... it's click on attachments. :)

And that means that many places block .exe attachments, so this may not be a solution if you're sending e-mails to third parties.

I'd agree with everyone else - I think that the number of people who can cope with zip files is perhaps 90% at best. Include basic instructionsa as well and you should be OK though.
posted by OldMansHands at 7:43 AM on June 18, 2008

The majority of people can deal with zip files, but try sending a windows user a tar.gz. Oy.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:54 AM on June 18, 2008

Part of the problem with Windows implementation of handling zip files (and I'm not really saying it's not a good solution or that the implementation is the problem, just the response) is that many users view the zip file as just another folder. So you zip up a bunch of files and send them to the user. If the file gets downloaded off the web or through a mail client they end up in some temporary folder and usually the user see's maybe one file, the one they clicked on initially inside the "compressed" folder. They don't know where the others went and they will likely go back and redownload, or get confused and close it all out.

I think definitely there are a large majority of users that:

a. Don't understand what a zip file is and how to extract one
b. Believe you have to have Winzip or some other software to open it
posted by genial at 8:38 AM on June 18, 2008

Is it safe to assume that anyone professionally employed in a computer-using job (secretary, assistant, ect.) is familiar with ZIP archives?

Nope. Whether a file is a ZIP file or a .doc or a .pdf is really not very interesting to a lot of people. Seriously.

Also, news of computer viruses have made some people very wary of opening any kind of file that they don't recognize. Your average IT department has sent out a whole bunch of e-mails warning employees to be careful about opening attachments. If they do click on the ZIP file, the flurry of activity that is the unzipping is going to prompt a lot of OMG What Did I Just Do!?
posted by desuetude at 8:47 AM on June 18, 2008

I have a secretary-ish job, and I can unzip a file and zip a file. But oddly, I'd never heard it called a zip archive before today. We don't have winzip or anything like it at work; I haven't even used it at home forever.
posted by peep at 8:56 AM on June 18, 2008

Assume nothing, especially when it comes to file compression. Or, rather, assume that no one knows what you're talking about. That's always the safest bet, when it comes to training issues.
posted by wheat at 9:09 AM on June 18, 2008

Nope... I work in an area of a large corporation that is responsible for sending out reports and large data files. Even the people we regularly send this data to sometimes get stumped on the .zip files. Not to mention any other file type you can imagine.
posted by smalls at 9:13 AM on June 18, 2008

Most people I work with know how to use Zip files enough to use them when they are emailed. Fewer know how to create them.

But then there was the one time I sent someone a RAR file. (I use WinRAR instead of the pre-installed WinZIP... unlike most people here I have admin access to my machine and can install programs.) They couldn't cope with the RAR file at all...
posted by utsutsu at 9:28 AM on June 18, 2008

Also, knowing how to do it is very different from knowing (or caring) what it's called.
posted by desuetude at 9:40 AM on June 18, 2008

I started my working life in the 80s doing tech support, did it for many years, and even now that I've officially stopped I still take care of a few of my cow-orkers.

An amazingly-high percentage of people, even youngsters who have grown up with computers, don't know much more than the minimal amount they need to do their jobs &ndash i.e., open MS Word, open their web browser, etc. Clear instructions and an offer of further support "if they need help" are often necessary.

On the other hand, when dealing with people you don't know well, you need to make sure to not give the appearance that you're "talking down to them." Some people will surprise you with their knowledge; others (who may need a lot of help) are insecure and don't take direction well.

Many people can learn new tasks without too much hand-holding; it's just that they haven't had to deal with situation X before. I'm a big fan of helping people learn by doing.
posted by D.C. at 10:50 AM on June 18, 2008

(Aaargh, MetaFilter ate my n-dash. It was there in live preview.)
posted by D.C. at 10:53 AM on June 18, 2008

D.C.'s point is true indeed. You don't want to fall into the trap of thinking the people you're dealing with are stupid just because they don't know how to do something that seems simple to the tech-savvy. Some very bright people just don't get along well with computers, beyond exactly what they usually need to do. If I were sending it, I'd say in the email "I'm sending this as a .zip file to save space. Do you know how to work with these? If not, give me a call and I'll walk you through it."

In fact, uncompressing a zip file is so easy on XP that I'd probably just a sentence or two in a P.S. to the email telling them how to do it, just in case.
posted by wheat at 5:52 PM on June 19, 2008

Thanks for the input, everyone.
posted by unmake at 1:30 AM on June 20, 2008

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