Phil Katz was the creator of PKZip, the file compression utility for DOS, which was released in the mid-80's.

Here's the basic story about Phil and PKZip (Phil Katz's Zip).

Phil wrote a compression program that was compatible with, and better than, System Enhancements Associates (SEA)'s program called ARC back in the 80's, and named it PKARC. It was actually faster than SEA's version, and he released it for free. Naturally, SEA sued him. Because of this, Phil decided to go a different direction, and instead produced a different algorythm for compression, tweaked with it a bit, and finally brought out PKZIP. Many people in the BBS community thought that SEA was a little heavyhanded for suing him, and switched to PKZip for that reason. Others moved over for the speed and better compression. The rest is history; Zip files became the mainstream, and preferred, method of compressing files during the BBS days.

Those looking for a more detailed look at the story between Phil and SEA may want to look at this FIDOnet article from 1988 that goes over the issue(s) in more detail. (

Once Windows 95 came out, WinZip became pretty popular. Unfortunately, Katz does not profit from any of the Winzip sales; I'm unclear on exactly what the licensing issues were, or whether he just gave away the right of usage to the people behind Winzip software, (or maybe they just created software that could read/write zip files without infringing on his rights).. but AFAIK, Katz profits nothing from any Winzip sales.

Phil Katz died Saturday, April 22nd, 2000 in a motel room, surrounded by hard liquor bottles - at the age of 37. Cause of death was reported to be "complications due to chronic alcoholism."

The article regarding his death can be found at ABC news; this link is correct as of today (April 23'rd), however, they may or may not change the link location at a later date, so you may need to perform a search on the ABC site in the future to locate the story. However, the story is currently located here:

PKZip's official site is at

SEA did sue PK, but not "naturally" because PKZip was faster and free (actually, PKArc and PKZip was shareware, as was ARC by SEA). SEA sued PK because it maintained PK lifted a lot of SEA's source code verbatim and used it in his software. In other words, it was about copyright violation.

The suit was settled under undisclosed terms after an expert witness testified that, indeed, PK did lift SEA's code.

Ironically, most members of the geek culture sided with PK because of the image spread by people who personally disliked Thom Henderson, the founder of SEA. The image was purporting that a big business was suing a small guy. In reality, SEA was a small business (essentially just Thom Henderson himself). The flack it received from the geek public was quite undeserved.

By the way, I can no longer remember the name of the expert witness, but long before the litigation I communicated with him on the 80XXX echo of Fidonet. I was always very impressed by the depth of his knowledge on the topic (which was assembly language). I am also convinced of his peronal and professional integrity. In other words, I believe he was a genuine expert, one whose testimony I would accept without hesitation.

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