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Regardless of the type of file you're sending to someone, if you're using the Internet to send the file, whether via e-mail or a web-based sharing service, another habit you should get into is to compress your files before sending them off. When it comes to the web, file size still matters a lot. It's a major determining factor in how long it takes to send and receive a file, or whether you can send the file at all. Compressing a file does just what it sounds like. It makes the file smaller. Fortunately, Mac OS X has the ability to compress the files in the most popular compression format, the zip format. Let's see how it works. I have here in this window a folder with several files in it.
Now I could easily open a new e-mail message and drag all these files into the message as separate documents, but you're going to find that compressing multiple files into a single attachment generally results in the files getting to their destination without corruption or errors much more frequently than sending everything uncompressed as individual attachments. But this isn't to say that you shouldn't compress single files. Even if I were only sending a single word processing document, I would probably still compress it, especially if it's a large document. Word processors are notorious for not being very efficient with the amount of space their files take up.
So to zip up these files, I simply select them all. And in this case, I'll just draw a rectangle around them all. Now, I'll choose File > Compress 8 Items. Just like that, this file called Archive has been created. I am just going to drag that to my desktop. Let's close that window for now. So when you compress your files, you're not doing anything to the original files. Those eight items are still sitting uncompressed on my computer. I just have a copy of them compressed sitting on my Desktop, currently named Archive.zip.
At this point, I generally like to rename the files, and do something a little less generic. So I'll just click in the file name. I'm going to call this employee documents. Now I have this single file to attach to an e-mail that's a little smaller in size than the original collection of documents. Now, how does compression work? To explain it in very basic terms, compression programs examine the contents of a file and try to locate the redundant information, which you can then use a sort of shorthand to compress. For example, let me open up TextEdit.
Let's say I have a file that contains the following characters. Now a compression program might look at this, and say, okay, there are four A's in a row. So it would write 4A. There are four Is in a row. So I'll type 4I. There are one, two, three, four, five, six Es; 6E. So instead of writing all of these characters, it would write 4A4I6E, which is much shorter than spelling the whole thing out. Now when it comes times for the recipient of this file to decompress it, their compression program will look at this shorthand, and then expand it out into the full version.
Now again, this is a highly simplified explanation of how compression works, but I think it's a fair representation. So let's talk about what happens when you receive a compressed file. Well, again, the Mac requires no additional software to expand or unpack a zipped file. So let's say I just receive this file called employee documents, and I have it copied to my desktop. So to unzip this zip file, I just double-click it. Just like that, the folder of files is unpacked and sitting here on my desktop. I can open it up and see all the individual files.
Now at this point, I could throw away the zip file, or I could just save it in a case I want to keep a compressed version of these files. So it's super easy to zip and unzip files on a Mac. In reality, it's not that difficult to do on Windows either. So if you're sending a zip file to Windows users, they'll be able to unpack your files as well. I highly recommend you always zip any files you intend to send over the Internet. You might not see a significant file size saving for smaller files, but it can make a big difference for larger collections of files.
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