You don’t need to download any third-party software to create a zip archive in Windows—simply right-click a group of files or folders and choose “Send To” and choose “compressed (zipped) folder.” But just because you don’t need an alternative file compression utility doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one. If you’re serious about getting the most secure, fastest, and most space-efficient archives, then you should look into some of these free file compression system utilities:
If you haven’t already downloaded this, you will soon—that’s because this is the de facto utility for handling tar, gz and 7z files. And if you don’t have 7-zip, you won’t be able to extract these files. What’s great about 7-zip? For one, it’s open source (free), it supports all the essential formats (including zip and rar) and it has one of the most powerful compression algorithms in a free program. You can even create self-extracting archives. 7-zip also integrates neatly into your Windows Explorer shell, meaning you can zip, extract and even email files with a simple right-click.
PeaZip is another open source alternative that handles everything a compression utility should: zip, arc, bz2, gz, paq/zpaq, pea, quad/balz, tar, upx and 7z. You can also extract files from ace, arj, cab, dmg, iso, lha, rar, udf and others, making this a good stand in for reading disk images. But what really makes PeaZip stand out is its portability. Unlike most system utilities, PeaZip doesn’t have to be installed to work for you—you can simply slap it onto a thumbdrive and take it with you. Great for IT techs and tech support teams.
Zip995 does it all, just like the others on this list, but it adds some other handy features, such as the ability to compare the contents of 2 files or folders. You can also set default unzip preferences, which can save you hundreds of clicks in the long run. Zip995 is also useful to have on hand, since it can repair existing archives that have been damaged or corrupted. The only downside of Zip995—it pays the bills by showing you a sponsored page in your browser every fifth time you run the software.
If you were raised on WinZip, but were dismayed to discover that it’s no longer free, then IZArc may be the perfect free alternative for you. IZArc touts a very WinZip-like interface, but it is absolutely free. It supports all the popular compression formats (both extracting and creating) and can also open CD images, such as iso, cdi, nrg, and bin. You can even use it to run an anti-virus scanner when opening any new archive.
The way we compress our files is often overlooked, especially since it’s handled natively by every major OS. But there are better ways to handle archives—and these programs let you do it. Check them out—they are free!