7-Zip: A Digital Sledgehammer and Crowbar

By Wayne Kawamoto | Posted June 07, 2007

A good compression utility shrinks big files down to size making them manageable enough to send efficiently over the Web or copied quickly to any storage medium.

7-Zip Screenshot

7-Zip comes with its own graphical file manager that looks much like Windows Explorer and allows you to easily and intuitively perform its many functions

For most people familiar with this type of utility, PKZip and WinZip are the first applications that come to mind for handling these activities. But 7-Zip, which is available through open source software license, offers a free alternative. While it may lack the polished look of its competitors, 7-Zip is definite competition for the established and better-known compression utilities and is certainly worth your consideration.

How Small Can You Go?
The full-featured 7-Zip packs and unpacks compressed files in a variety of conventional formats and offers advanced options to adjust compression levels to your liking. It works in Windows versions 98 through XP and comes in a command-line version for Linux and Unix. Furthermore, the program supports 63 languages.

7-Zip also offers its own high-compression file format called 7z that's based on LZMA compression, supports AES-256 encryption, and includes self-extraction capabilities. Of course, if you're working with other people, they'll also need to use 7-Zip in order to compress and extract files in the proprietary 7z format.

Aside from its own format, 7-Zip also packs and unpacks files in ZIP, GZIP and BZIP2 formats, as well as TAR, which is often used on Unix and Linux systems. As a result, while the 7z format offers key advantages, you can still use 7-Zip to work with compressed files from other people who aren't using 7-Zip.

7-Zip also provides unpacking capabilities for RAR, CAB, ISO, ARJ, LZH, CHM, Z, CPIO, RPM, DEB and NSIS file formats. A new extension to the ZIP format supports strong (AES) encryption, which will be offered in the next official release of 7-Zip. You can evaluate this feature now in the most recent beta versions of 7-Zip.

Windows-Like
The program comes with its own graphical file manager that looks much like Windows Explorer and works much the same way. It allows you to easily and intuitively perform its many functions (copy, delete, extract, add, etc.), as well as access and set options and work with any archived file or sets of files in a folder.

To create an archive you simply select a file, set of files, or entire folders and click the "add" button. The interface is mostly comparable to that of WinZip and anyone with minimal computer experience should have no problems using the program.

Testing
In testing, we found 7z archives to be approximately 30 percent smaller in the best cases than those that the program created in Zip format. 7z files did take longer to create than those in the Zip format, and this was the case whether 7-Zip itself was creating the Zipped file or PKZIP or WinZip were used to create the Zip files.

As one would expect, final compression sizes varied with the types of files archived. For example, MP3 files yielded minimally smaller compressed files while data files from Office applications and image files yielded smaller file sizes with more compression in the 7z format. Compared against Zip files created by PKZip and WinZip, Zip files created in 7-Zip were only minimally smaller, with a compression ratio that averaged about three percent in the best cases.

During testing, 7-Zip did an admirable job of unpacking compressed files in other formats. We encountered a few older ZIP files that 7-Zip could not extract. According to the publisher, these problems are typically the result of files with incorrect headers.

While 7-Zip won't open archives with incorrect headers, some ZIP programs apparently ignore these errors. In these cases, the developer suggests that you find and use the program that originally created the Zip file.

Great Price
When it comes to pricing, you just can't beat free. Another plus, you don't have to register the program to use it. However, you're strongly encouraged to make a $20 donation to support further development of 7-Zip. Donations are accepted via credit card, PayPal, wire transfer or check.

7-Zip compares well with the other compression programs, and it's compatible with their file formats. Plus it's easy to use and supports its own compression format that may, depending on the type of files, save even more space. What's not to like?

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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