It’s tax season in Canada and the U.S., so if you have a lotof information to send to your accountant, zip it. (And we don’t mean your lip.)

Compressing files, usually called “zipping,” saves money on phone time and space on drives and disks. Also, if you encrypt the files (put them

in code), you can protect the contents from prying eyes. There are several programs and services for doing this, but they have limits. We’ll also tell you about a way to send up to a gigabyte (a thousand megabytes) of encrypted information.

A STIFF UPPER ZIP

The new WinZip 9.0 and WinZip Companion for Outlook are both available at www.winzip.com. WinZip is the granddaddy of compression utilities and has millions of users. You can both compress and encrypt files with either one of these programs; just zip, encrypt and send.

The full WinZip program is US$29, but if you use Microsoft Outlook for your e-mail, and most businesses do, it’s probably easier to use the WinZip Companion, which is only US$19. When you’re ready to send an e-mail from Outlook, the program asks you if you want to zip and encrypt it first. You can choose each time or make the process automatic.

The recipient will need to know the secret password to unlock an encrypted file. You can call the person on the phone to give him the password, or send it in an e-mail. You might say, for example, that the password is “the boss’s dog’s name.” That way you don’t have to spell it out in the e-mail.

TASTY DANISH

BitZipper 4.1 is a US$25 Danish program you can find at www.bitberry.com. This is an easy-to-use compression utility, with a friendly interface and lots of features, including encryption.

You can keep zipping and encrypting one file after another as long as you want, and BitZipper can treat them all as an archive in a single folder. When you zip a new file the program will ask you if you want to add it to the group you just recently zipped. If you say yes, then it all sits in one folder. You can e-mail the folder or store it.

BitZipper compression was the best we found. It compressed a 22k text file down to 4k. The free utility in Windows XP only compressed that file to 8k and WinZip crunched it to 7k. Note that image and sound files can’tbe compressed as much as text.

BIG FILES FOR FREE

We briefly mentioned YouSendIt (www.yousendit.com) last month. It’s a free e-mail service for big files. Over 22 trillion bytes are e-mailed from this site every day.

It’s usually tough to send large files by e-mail. Most service providers, whether it’s the giant AOL or a small outfit in West Pumpkin, Idaho, restrict file size to five to 20 megabytes. But YouSendIt will take files as large as a gigabyte.

The bad news is how long it takes. We have a high-speed Internet connection and a fast computer, and it took 20 minutes to send a six megabyte file. If we tried to send a gigabyte, it could take 10 to 12 hours. With a slow connection and a slow computer, it could take four days.

The good news is you can do other things on your computer while the file is being sent, and retrieval is much faster than sending. While it took 20 minutes to send our file, it took just a minute and a half to retrieve it. Since the service is free, it seems like a good way to go for individuals or small businesses that send large e-mail files only once in a while.

The only problem is security. There are no passwords, so anyone who has access to the e-mail account can read your file. The solution is to encrypt it first.

FIRE HARDENED

Firetrust Encrypt (www.firetrust.com) is a good encryption program. It’s free to try, US$30 to buy.

If you have a big file to e-mail, use this or another encryption program first, and then use YouSendIt.com to send it off. You can also zip it with one of the compression utilities, such as the free Windows version. Zipping the file will cut the sending time.

BOOKS

Two good ones from O’Reilly:

“Windows XP Power Hound” by Preston Gralla; US$25 at www.oreilly.com. Learn how to turn a favorite Web page into Windows wallpaper, complete with clickable links. Speed up “startup,” rename groups of documents in one swoop, create a fax line (without an extra phone line), slam spam, secure the system and use invisible ink in Microsoft Word. Power is fun.

“Excel, the Missing Manual” by Matthew MacDonald; US$40. This book is so well-written it will make you want to learn Excel, the Microsoft spreadsheet program. Excel is a kind of “Swiss Army knife” application that can be applied to anything from calculating a monthly mortgage payment to estimating your odds of winning a poker hand. Learn how to post spreadsheets to the Web, and even make them interactive for the viewer. You might be a novice at the beginning of this book, but you’ll be an expert by the end.

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