By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers
Two things are always true in personal computing: You can never have enough hard drive space, and every time you add more storage space you end up running out of room faster than you expected.
Although hard drives are cheaper than ever before, adding a second drive or replacing the one that came with your PC is still a pain. That's why millions of PC users have chosen a backdoor method of adding disk space, using advanced software to compress their files so they take up less room on the disk.
Microsoft, maker of the Windows PC operating system, makes this kind of disk compression easy to achieve. A program called DriveSpace, which compresses files an average of 50 percent, is built into Windows 95. DriveSpace compression is only called into action if users choose to install it—a good thing, considering the potential dangers of the DriveSpace compression method. (In brief, DriveSpace squeezes all files and folders into one gigantic compressed file. If that "virtual disk" file gets damaged, everything on the drive could be lost.)
Rival methods of file compression flourished until a few years ago, when DriveSpace (and its newer cousin, DriveSpace 3) drove them out of the market. Because DriveSpace was, in a sense, given away with Windows, few users had any interest in paying for a competing method.
But that may soon change. Mijenix, a company specializing in file compression software, has introduced an entirely new method of compressing the files and folders on a disk. The Mijenix product is FreeSpace, available as a free trial download from http://www.mijenix.com/. (You get many days to try out the software before it stops working.)You can also order FreeSpace directly from Mijenix by calling 800 645-3649. FreeSpace costs $50.
FreeSpace works with both Windows 95 and Windows NT. It does not work with the older version of Windows or with the Macintosh.
Unlike DriveSpace, FreeSpace does not create a "virtual disk" and is therefore much safer. FreeSpace leaves your disk intact while compressing individual files. It will not compress files in the Windows folder (to make sure your PC can boot up before FreeSpace starts running), nor will it compress other sensitive files that Windows may need. If a file that has been compressed with FreeSpace is opened on a computer that does not have FreeSpace, the file expands itself back to its original size automatically. This safety factor makes FreeSpace almost foolproof.
FreeSpace can free up a lot of room on a typical hard disk, and works fine with files on floppies and on removable Zip and Jaz disks, too. An easy-to-use "Quick Space Wizard" locates easily compressed files and puts them through the wringer quickly, and more advanced choices of what to compress can be made, too.
In my tests of FreeSpace, I compressed about 24,000 files on the three hard drives in my PC system and gained 650 megabytes of space. (I left about 20,000 files uncompressed as a comparison.) There was no slowdown opening or saving files, and FreeSpace recovered its composure reasonably well when I turned off the PC in the middle of a compression operation. (Some of the files that were being compressed were lost, but a file-recovery feature of FreeSpace rescued others.)
In most ways, FreeSpace works transparently. The only slowdown I noticed occurred when I had compressed a folder containing more than 4,000 files. (This was the cache folder for an offline Web browser.) FreeSpace took nearly a minute to open the folder, and nearly as long just to copy a file into the folder. Folders with typical contents (a few hundred files at most) were handled without a problem.