It’s 1999 and my friends and I are browsing the warez pages using Internet Explorer on our 98SE gaming rig. We finally get past the scams and porn to find a list of files on the FTP server labeled “.rar, .r00, .r01, r.02…” But what the hell is that?
“Oh, it’s segmented. To expand them, you need to download this program, it’s called WinRAR. Much better than WinZip.”
“Do we have to pay for this?”
“No… but if you’re as cheap as I think you are, it’ll continue to plague you for a quarter of a century until, in the dark of 2023, Windows 11 finally natively supports the format.”
In retrospect, my friend’s comment was incredibly far reaching. How could he know how bleak and dark the future would be? How could he predict that Windows would switch back to sequential numbering, but skip the 9? And how did he know I was so, shall we say, thrifty that I’d rather than pay $30, spend more than two decades just trying to do my WinRAR task fast enough to avoid the “Please buy a WinRAR license” pop-up window you don’t have opportunities to perform?
Yes, it took over three decades for the .rar file to finally be supported on Windows without any additional software. Back in the 1990s, it was just one of several competing compression applications (or “apps” as they were called back then) for the purpose of reducing collections of files so that they could be more efficiently transmitted over our woefully slow internet.
How long did it take to download a set of Star Trek After Dark screensavers from a BBS to a call using WhiteKnight’s telnet application, you wonder? Overnight stay. After all, it was a shade over five megabytes. But if it wasn’t for the .sea (self-extracting archive) courtesy of Stuffit, we’d be waiting long into the next day.
Yes, compression was necessary back then, in my case as a young software pirate, but of course in more legitimate ways, such as software distribution and actual “archival” purposes. I can’t speak to whether WinRAR was as common among companies as it was among providers of pirated games and applications. But the fact that it lived a full 30 years from its original development as a DOS program (28 since it came to Windows) to its latest release last week, and is still almost small enough to fit on a 3.5- inch hard drive. floppy disk — indicates that he has found his niche.
Over time, however, the need for applications like WinRAR has diminished as drive capacity and network bandwidth have increased exponentially. The handful of megabytes that used to take me overnight to download and were a significant portion of my hard drive is now the bare minimum to download in one another if you want to call your connection “broadband”. In addition, open source standards and options such as the libarchive project have proliferated.
Then at some point someone at Microsoft must have gotten tired of rushing their .rar operations like I have for 20 years and thought there had to be a better way. And so, under the “Effort Reduction” sub-heading, we have some useful UI updates, and then, incidentally and for nothing, this:
We’ve added native support for additional archive formats including tar, 7-zip, rar, gz and many others using the libarchive open source project. You can now get improved archiving performance while compressing in Windows.
Of course, the library has long been integrated with other operating systems, and native support for .rar files is old hat to many. But for me personally, this change is epochal.
Over the years I’ve still found uses for WinRAR, some legit, some… maybe mostly not so legit. And I never forgot that in the midst of my piracy, I was pirated twice, as I was several decades past the end of my WinRAR 40-day trial period. When I was lacking concentration (my APMs have been dropping lately) I saw this mischievous screen and thought: am I really that small? Am I really going to continue abusing this poor shareware for the rest of my life? When will I go clean and narrow again (if I ever did) and make an honest WinRAR app?
Reader, I bought WinRAR.
It seems only fair that I pay the cost of a coffee – you know, around $31 these days – to support a piece of software that is among the very, very few that travel with me for most of my computing life. Few other programs have been such constant companions, though I’d pay for Winamp if I could.
(Also, I haven’t updated to Windows 11 and won’t until there is another option, so I don’t benefit from this particular integration.)
I don’t know what the future holds for WinRAR; I’ve asked the company what it thinks official adoption of the Windows format will mean for its software and business, and will update if I hear back.