The Sad Life of Phil Katz

The Inventor of ZIP Files

The Inventor of ZIP Files

Way back in the early days of Personal Computers, space was at a premium. Very early on, back in the 1980s in fact, I quickly learned to use PKZIP and PKUNZIP to compress and decompress files that I was not using frequently. The PK in the names stood for inventor Phil Katz from Milwaukee, whose company PKWARE pretty much owned the business.

Then the lawsuits came, from a patent troll named System Enhancement Associates (SEA), which tried to establish the similar ARC format. For whatever reason, perhaps even before this happened, Phil turned to drink. He was arrested so many times for drunk driving that he stayed mostly in hotels between Milwaukee and Chicago. It was in one of these hotels in 2000 that Phil was found dead in his room with an empty bottle of peppermint schnapps at his side and two other empty liquor bottles nearby.

He was only 37 when he died.

Not all the innovators in the computer business turned out like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Although at one time, PKWARE had twenty employees, Phil was mostly an absentee loner and was not drawn to the business side of his enterprise, though he was not averse to draining the profits whenever he could.

Today I use the ZIP format on an almost daily basis. Although PKWARE is still in existence (at least, their website is), most people use either WinZip or just the ZIP functionality built into the Microsoft operating system (which Phil hated).

So drink a toast to Phil Katz, who didn’t really want to be famous or rich. He just wanted to be left alone.