It's been two years since the last version of WinZip came out. Finally, the wait for a new version is almost over. According to WinZip, version 9.0 will hit the streets by the end of the year.

The early beta for WinZip 9.0 includes support for the 128-bit and 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) as well as 64-bit extensions to the ZIP file format. Whereas previous WinZip versions limited the archive file size to 4GB and a total of 65,535 files, the 64-bit extension does not limit the archive size or the total number of files.

The new version of WinZip offers tighter integration with Windows. Mouse over any WinZip archive to see the individual filenames zipped into it. Version 9.0 includes native XP support, giving the product that Windows XP look and feel. Plus, the new WinZip e-mail attachment add-on for Outlook makes it possible to zip files as you attach them to Outlook e-mail (no more having to insert the attached file), saving you time.

But these feature enhancements will serve only to bring WinZip up to speed with compression competitors PKZip, CuteZip, StuffIt, and PentaSuite. From what we've seen in a recent beta, however, WinZip 9.0's new features will not be exciting enough to pull this app out ahead of the others.

When WinZip 9.0 hits the market later in 2003, registered users of WinZip 8.0 will be able to upgrade to 9.0 for free. Meanwhile, a public beta of 9.0 is available for download.