Here we are barreling into the 21st century with breakneck speed; new hardware and software every year, standards prevailing for data stored in the cloud, but if we still had floppy disks or CD players on our Macs, sneaker net would rule. Why? Because sharing files remains a royal pain in the patootie.
Wait? Don’t we have Dropbox, and iCloud, and AirDrop, and file standards that can be read everywhere? I wish. Here’s a simple and commonplace scenario which cropped up over the weekend for which there is not an easy, simple, standards-based solution. Taxes are coming up and our accountant asked for a few spreadsheets, preferably in Excel, preferably Excel for Windows, preferably zipped up, password protected, of course, and sent via email or posted on a secure location somewhere.
Uh oh. We ditched Microsoft Office years ago, so no Excel. All our spreadsheets are made in Apple’s Numbers which has a convenient Excel export option. What about ZIP archives? Files and folders can be zipped up as an Archive in the Mac’s Finder, but not with a password. For that you need the Terminal.app commands or a utility which does the deed.
Hit MacUpdate or the Mac App Store for “ZIP archive password” and you’ll find plenty of utilities which read ZIP archives, a few less that do the ARCHIVE with a password, and even fewer which ensure the zipped archive works on Windows (because, for whatever reason, all archive utilities are not created equal, and Mac files tend to pass along plenty of cruft to our Windows PC brethren. Oh, and most such utilities come with a price tag.
Over the course of a couple of hours I tried out a dozen ZIP archive utilities only to be frustrated by a few idiosyncrasies of each one. The Mac’s ZIP archive tool does not always play nice-nice with files going to Windows PC users (the aforementioned cruft). Most of the add-on utilities could not even handle a password. Those that could, including the famed WinZIP and a few others like Stuffit for Mac come with a hefty price tag which seemed to add insult to the injury of not being able to do something so simple. ZIP up a file, add a password, send it to Windows PC users without a two hour exercise in search, trial, and error.
A few ZIP archive utilities I’ve reviewed and used in the past were no longer available (free is a difficult business model to maintain). One that looked promising was EZipMaker which uses OS X’s Archive function to zip of a folder of files and add the password; mostly as a GUI front end to what’s already built-in to OS X (but it leaves the cruft behind for Windows PC users).
My standby archive app for years has been BetterZip, mostly because it has so many options, especially when dealing with archives for Macs, Linux servers, and a long list of esoteric archive formats. But it wouldn’t archive files in a ZIP format that could be opened on a Windows PC owned by our accountant.
EZip works much like EZipMaker. It’s an AppleScript utility which uses the built-in ZIP archive in OS X, but the cruft files remained. There’s also ZipCleaner which removes the resource information from Mac files, ostensibly to make them easier for Windows users. It’s free, and seemed to work, but it was also an extra layer of work (the same developer has other utilities for OS X, few of which have been updated in many years; not a good sign).
The longer I looked and the more ZIP utilities I tried, the more I was sure I did not want to spend money on a ZIP archive app that would get used once a year.
What was the solution?
We saved the Numbers spreadsheet as a PDF and added a password to protect the contents. That was it. No grumbles from the accountant. No security worries to speak of (it’s just numbers). And far less effort than trying to plug a commonplace hole that should have been filled years ago.