Everyone should keep a file compression and extraction tool installed. It’s one of those essential PC tools. Windows includes basic functionality to zip and unzip files, but it’s extremely limited.
Here are three of our favorite tools for dealing with compressed files.
7-Zip is a no-frills, powerful compression utility. It’s a household name of open-source software, works on every version of Windows since 2000, and it’s completely free for home or business use with no registration required. It’s available in 32-bit and 64-bit flavors, and clocks in at a tiny 1 MB, making it a lightweight application. If you prefer, you can also use 7-Zip as a portable application. Either way, it installs in seconds.
When it’s time to work with compressed files, you can open 7-Zip on its own and browse out to a directory, or just use its File Explorer integration. Right-clicking on a file lets you access the 7-Zip menu, which can extract files, zip them up, or view what’s inside with just one click.
7-Zip supports a load of formats, including 7z, XZ, BZIP2, GZIP, TAR, ZIP and WIM. The 7z format provides a high compression ratio for large files, and geeks will love the app’s command line integration.
On the negative side, 7-Zip’s interface is pretty ugly; it also makes the icons for compressed files look ancient. To remedy this, our friends at How-To Geek have shown how to customize 7-Zip to make it look far better.
Overall, 7-Zip is great if you want a solid tool for any compressed files thrown your way and don’t mind Spartan presentation.
While 7-Zip is a classic favorite, PeaZip might be the best option for most users. It’s not as slim as 7-Zip, but PeaZip uses its extra size wisely on user-friendliness and attractive aesthetics. Novice users can install it quickly with default options, but those who want to tweak its behavior have plenty to change during the installation and in the menus.
PeaZip features a clean interface and an easy-to-use file browser in the program itself, giving it a leg up on 7-Zip. Language is also much friendlier than the cold technicality of 7-Zip, letting the user pick between “best compression” and “no extraction software needed by the user” instead of confusing file formats and the like.
Additionally, PeaZip can convert compressed archives to other formats, and repair damaged files. It also uses easy-to-understand shortcuts in the right-click menu when you’re browsing the File Explorer, and you won’t find any ugly icons here. It, too, is open-source and available in a portable version.
PeaZip is an attractive tool that’s great for beginners and advanced users alike, and we’d recommend it to anyone who doesn’t know which archiving tool to try.
For those who prefer to keep everything simple, Zipware is a great choice. Aside from (optionally) choosing which formats you’d like to associate with the program at installation, you can start using the software without any setup. Its large buttons are easy to understand and present the majority of functions the average user needs in one bar.
Zipware includes the standard right-click shortcuts, and allows you to drag and drop zipped files into its main window if you prefer. One nice touch is the program’s ability to upload files to VirusTotal to check them for infection without even leaving your desktop.
Overall, Zipware isn’t the most powerful compression tool available, but it offers a great feature set at an impressive speed. We’d recommend it to anyone who didn’t appreciate the advanced offerings of 7-Zip or PeaZip.
A Note on Paid Tools
You’ll notice that each of these three programs are totally free. There’s a reason for that — while plenty of software is worth paying for, compression utilities aren’t one of them. Any of the three above tools will take care of 99% of people’s compression needs.
Paying $35 for WinZip for $29 for WinRAR is a complete waste of money that you can put towards better purchases. Those tools might offer a wealth of options, but the average person won’t use them.
What’s Your Go-To Archiving Software?
We’ve touched on just a few of the many file compression tools for Windows. Plenty of alternative programs offer a stronger feature set or compatibility with more formats, but we like the above three tools for their ubiquity, balanced feature sets, and ease of use. If you work with zipped files all the time, you might require advanced software, but most folks will have a fine time with any of these three tools.
Not sure what this compression talk is all about? Check out how file compression works.
Did we miss your favorite archiving software in the above list? Let us know which tool you can’t live without by leaving a comment!