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Zip Files, Briefcases, and Folders

David from Queensland, Australia asks:

Could you please explain the difference between Microsoft Briefcase, Zip file, and file. What is the purpose of each and when we would we use each. I use Windows 7.


A computer file is the basic form of storage on a computer. Most people combine similar information into a single file and name it appropriately. Computer programs are able to access these files and data is usually organized so that it can be easily located for later use. Files are arrays of bytes that are contained within an operating system.

The type of bytes in a file will depend on the information being stored. Files containing audio bytes will be different than those containing video bytes, and neither of these are similar to files with text bytes. The information contained on computer files can not only be created, but also deleted, changed, moved around, increased, and decreased.

Files are made every time something is saved on the computer. Individual files can be gathered into folders or left as single files. However, it’s usually easier to keep track of similar information that is lumped into folders together.

Zip File


When the need to transfer a large number of files arises, a zip file can be created. Zip file formatting was first developed in 1989 and has been included with the many versions of Windows since 1998. This is a format used to archive files in a compressed form. The same information is still in the files, but the data has been reduced in size for easier storage or transport. Many people find it quicker to email a zip file rather than 10 separate files in a single email.

Transferring a single computer file to another computer system sends the information exactly as it is. However, when a zip file is transferred to another computer or storage device, the files must be unzipped in order to be viewed. This is also known as extracting the individual files from a set of compressed files.

Most operating systems will recognize a zipped file when it is encountered, but there are times when additional software must be installed in order to read the contents of the zip file. Windows, Linux, and MAC all have different software installed for reading zip files. Since you are using Windows 7, creating and opening a zip file are both done through WinZip. Compressing or zipping a file or files includes the following steps:

-Select the number of files you want to compress

-Right click on the highlighted set of files

-Select ‘Compressed Folder’

-Rename the new zipped folder

Unzipping the compressed folder includes double-clicking on the zipped folder and choosing a new location for information to be stored once it’s extracted.

Microsoft Briefcase


The Briefcase is a special folder that was first introduced in Windows 95 and it acts very similar to a file and file folder. However, it is able to perform a two-way synchronization between a separate folder and itself. This type of folder was devised with mobile PC users in mind. Being able to place information in a removable drive for later use is an important task for PC users on the go. They need the capability to transfer information to the removable drive then be able to access this information on any computer the drive is later attached to.

Mobile PC users aren’t the only ones who can benefit from the synchronization techniques of the Briefcase. Once information is copied into the Briefcase or the drag tool transfers information to this special folder, people with multiple computers can alter data quickly in both the Briefcase and on the disk the files were transferred from. When data is altered on either the disk or in the Briefcase, synchronization of all information takes two steps. The first step is to right click on the briefcase icon and the second step is selecting ‘Update All’.

During the synchronization process, any differences noticed between the copies are shown in a dialog box. The action that will be performed to complete synchronization between all copies is shown in the dialog box and users can chose to skip over the synchronization of some items or synching only one file at a time, instead of all files at once. If any items are deleted from the original information or in the Briefcase, then there is the option to make a copy of the deleted data.


Note: There have been quite a few people who can’t seem to get Briefcase to work properly in Windows 7, so you might need to try SyncToy instead. This is a download offered by Microsoft as well that can synchronize files and folders in different locations.

~Cory Buford