Windows has a number of good file archiving and unarchiving utilities, and which one you use generally depends on what you'll be using it for. For most users, we recommend the simple, fast and powerful 7-Zip.
Platform: Windows Price: Free Download Page
- Supports packing and unpacking of 7z, XZ, BZIP2, GZIP, TAR, ZIP and WIM formats, as well as unpacking of ARJ, CAB, CHM, CPIO, CramFS, DEB, DMG, FAT, HFS, ISO, LZH, LZMA, MBR, MSI, NSIS, NTFS, RAR, RPM, SquashFS, UDF, VHD, WIM, XAR and Z.
- Supports creating archives with the very high-compression 7z format
- AES-256 encryption support for 7z and ZIP formats
- Integration with the Windows context menu
- Powerful, lightweight command line version available (and cross-platform)
7-Zip excels in its simplicity and minimalism. If you come across an archive on the internet, 7-Zip will more than likely open it in the blink of an eye and extract it anywhere you want. You can also compress files with 7-Zip right from the Windows context menu, and the 7z format is one of the best file compression formats around. Encryption for 7z and ZIP is a nice touch as well, and the command-line utility is great if you want to compress big files and move them across platforms.
While 7-Zip is pretty powerful, if you need a bit more security in your archive creation, it doesn't offer a ton of options. Encryption is great, but only supports two formats and doesn't have some of the other features that programs like PeaZip do. Also, while we love its minimal UI, it isn't exactly the prettiest, and some people may prefer a more filled-out interface. Again, it's all in how you use it - most users will be more than content with it, and users that want more can move on to one of the other programs below.
Windows has quite a few good file compression programs, so if you don't like 7-Zip, you have quite a few choices. PeaZip is a very popular option, mostly for its good-looking interface and its numerous security options, like two-factor authentication, secure file deletion, and comparison of files using hashes. It can pack into a few more file formats too. PeaZip's biggest downside is that it often seems a bit overwhelming for those that just want a simple file compression utility, and the UI can be a bit quirky at times.
Similarly, TUGZip is a very powerful tool for those that need it. It can not only handle a ton of different formats, but you can create scripts that allow for things like automated backups, which is pretty cool. On the other side of the coin, Universal Extractor is super simple and integrates with Windows Explorer, but can only uncompress archives - not create them.
Lastly, if you're only compressing and uncompressing files on Windows, some people prefer WinRAR to 7-Zip, though it does cost money to use. However, the RAR compression is pretty great, and even better than 7z in some cases.
Got a particular compression utility that we didn't mention? Be sure to let us know about it in the comments.
Lifehacker's App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories. This week, we're focusing on file archive utilities.