The sad life and death of Phil Katz, creator of the Zip file compression program

Originally published at: The sad life and death of Phil Katz, creator of the Zip file compression program | Boing Boing


I had no idea who Phil Katz was, but will remember him every time I unZip a file from now on.


There’s a second cultural story of significant importance here that he touches on briefly in the video. I think it deserves more attention in this modern context.

Phil got rich by stealing SEA’s source code for ARC and optimizing the high frequency parts of it. A completely transparent copyright violation, even by 1980s computer laws. When SEA called him on it and tried to come up with an amicable deal, Phil was a dick about it and said no. So SEA sued.

At this point, the BBS communities got involved and quickly chose sides. These early communities were toxic manbaby incel cesspools just like a *chan or *kun of today. I know many fellow Mutants know what I’m talking about because many of us were there.

Because the manbabies liked PKARC and it was free, they felt entitled to it and thus sided with Phil, declaring SEA to be a corporate overlord trying to crush the little guy. That framing was ridiculous, because both companies were one-person kitchen-table operations, and SEA were the ones who actually innovated something. Phil stole it and sold it cheaper to capture market share.

This created a huge PR nightmare for SEA who depended on this BBS user community that now hated them. They would have won the lawsuit hands-down, but instead quietly settled to try and win back community support. They were literally bullied out of their rights by the manbabies who had decided to play kingmaker.

Any of this sound familiar?

That’s the side of this story that doesn’t get told enough.


Seth Meyers Wow GIF by Late Night with Seth Meyers

Thanks for the history lesson!


I bought the license for $47.00, haunted BBS boards in the olden days. Before the internet, Fidonet and FTPing files. Here is an article more on Phil’s side of the story: JS Online: JS Online


benchmarks for pkzip, sea arc, and pk arc, etc

A five times speedier reimplementation of an existing program is still useful, no matter how derivative, particularly when computers were slow.

I didn’t say it wasn’t better. I said he stole it. Which he did. Then manbabies warped the world to their wishes. Which they did. Those were my points.


This all happened when I was still in the parallel world of Macs, where we used StuffIt to compress files. Zip support didn’t come until later.


Such luxury! I was still in the Apple II world when this was happening. :grin: Most Apple II stuff on BBSes wasn’t compressed at all, partly because decompression is difficult without a hard disk on which to hold the archive to uncompress to a floppy. Two disk drives or a RAM disk would get you far, but not everyone had that. A 140k disk image took a few hours to download, so compression would have been nice.



Well shucks, if he “stole” the code that made it fast, and saved people the cost of buying a vastly more expensive computer, good for him. Why were they sitting on such finely optimized assembly code anyway?

A nice reminder of how long petulant man babies have been with us, since that’s the real story here.

I can’t say I ever transferred files before 1995, though. BBS’s were for finding out you weren’t the only nerd who liked, well, whatever nerdy thing it was that you liked. Files were still transferred via sneaker net, though I have lost my collection of Commodore 64 and Apple II games that I had traded together. I can’t say I was much of a paragon, and my young, foolish self might have easily piled on with the rest if I had been a part of that discussion.

Still have a box of Mac floppies, though. Most of the data has probably faded, lost forever to bit rot, but I can’t part with them. Nor with my Commodore 64.

Don’t use StuffIt any more, of course. Why bother when Zip file compression is available in the Finder and in the zsh terminal?

You try explaining it to young kids these days, they won’t believe you, indeed!


No, he took someone else"s work, made some changes and passed it off as his own.


Kind of like when Linus Torvalds et al ripped off the Santa Cruz Operation? I probably was using sit/hqx at the time, so I can’t say I was in either camp.

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How is anything about that situation comparable in any way?

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It would not be terribly difficult to write a piece that describes raymond, stallman, and perhaps even torvalds in extremely unflattering terms, and misses the point as to why users of free software choose it over competing platforms.

Care to elucidate?
When did Linus Torvalds ripped off SCO?
If you are referring to SCO v. IBM (and following disputes), well, all of is still online, and wkipedia has a decent article.
If not, I’m, in full honesty, curious.


Thats… bullshit. Linus didn’t rip off anyone at SCO, a decade plus of Groklaw will show the light on that little shakedown op SCO ran.

If anyone has a right to be upset at Linus et al, it’d be Andrew Tannebaum.


No problems with that, I don’t especially like them either - for reasons ranging from political to just plain “don’t be an asshole”.
To his credit, Torvalds seems to be aging much better than Stallman, though.

That has nothing to do with ripping off others’ work.


And I still think that architecturally speaking, he was right and Torvalds wrong, but hey, sometimes compromise solutions work well enough.


It is not legal to take someone else’s code whole cloth, modify parts of it, and release it as your own product. That is not legal now, and it wasn’t legal in 1989.

You are obstinately ignoring the points I’m making because you want to have a different argument. My thresher is in the shop, so please stop with the straw men.