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Best Compression Utilities for Windows

written by: Profacgillies•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 12/7/2009

Windows Vista will handle zipped folders, allowing users to drag and drop files to compressed folders. So why do you need another file compression utility? Find out what Vista doesn't do, what it does badly, and what does it better.

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    Compressed Folders in Windows Vista

    Windows has provided its own compression options since XP days. In Vista these functions can be very slow. Vista will support only the most basic file formats, and personal experience shows that the compressed folders that are produced are not always recognized as a valid compressed archive in other environments. To read more about performance comparisons, please see 7-zip File Extraction and Compression: Improving on Windows Vista here at Bright Hub.

    Judged accorded to criteria of usability (how easy is it to use?), functionality (how much does it do?), reliability (does it always work without going wrong?) and performance (how quickly does it work?), the internal compression functions emerge as:

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    Usability

    Rating Average

    The integration of the compressed folders is very convenient, but is flawed because of so many performance problems.

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    Functionality

    Rating Average

    Vista is limited by its restriction to the .zip format particularly when used with Internet applications which require a wider range of formats.

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    Reliability

    Rating Average

    The resulting compressed folders are not judged to be valid archives by many other applications.

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    Performance

    Rating Average

    Performance is remarkably poor, with compression taking a very long time.

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    Winzip

    The most common alternative is probably Winzip. Winzip is a commercial application, now in version 14, coming in two flavors standard and professional. The professional version offers better backup functionality and integration with email. It appears to be reliable and supports a range of formats although some of these require additional applications to be installed.

    Judged according to the above criteria, Winzip scores much better:

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    Usability

    Rating Average

    The interface is more complex but poses little difficulty in use.

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    Functionality

    Rating Average

    The application has good features but is still limited in its range of formats compared with the best.

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    Reliability

    Rating Average

    The compressed folders appear much more acceptable to a wide range of applications than those produced from Vista.

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    Performance

    Rating Average

    The performance is much better than Vista and matches the best alternatives

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    Coffee Cup Free Zip Wizard

    Coffee Cup Software offer a free alternative known as the Coffee Cup Free Zip Wizard. This majors on usability, and it is one of the easiest to use. It only supports the traditional .zip format but does offer in built email and FTP facilities which make it particularly attractive if this is the context in which you need to compress files.

    Judged according to the same criteria as the other utilities, Coffee Cup Free Zip Wizard scores best for usability:

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    Usability

    Rating Average

    This application has a very simple interface which is easy to use.

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    Functionality

    Rating Average

    This application offers little more than Vista in terms of functionality.

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    Reliability

    Rating Average

    This application appears to produce compressed folders than be reliably read by other applications.

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    Performance

    Rating Average

    Thsi application offers much better performance than Vista.

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    7-zip

    My personal favorite remains 7-zip. It handles the widest range of formats of any of these utilities: it will compress in 7z, ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2 and TAR formats and extract from RAR, CAB, ISO, ARJ, LZH, CHM, MSI, WIM, Z, CPIO, RPM, DEB and NSIS formatted archives. This range of formats is particularly important when working with Internet applications developed in UNIX or Linux environments such as content management systems or virtual learning platform. It offers excellent performance and has proved to be highly reliable. More detail is available at http://www.brighthub.com/office/home/reviews/10118.aspx.

    Judged according to the same criteria as the other utilities, 7-Zip scores best overall:

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    Usability

    Rating Average

    This application provides a good interface to the widest range of options.

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    Functionality

    Rating Average

    This application offers the widest range of functions and formats.

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    Reliability

    Rating Average

    This is my application of choice and it has never given problems.

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    Performance

    Rating Average

    This application provides some of the best performance across its entire range of compression formats.

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    Conclusions

    The compression functionality within Vista has reliability and performance issues and limited functionality. Winzip provides a viable alternative but is a commercial application with licensing costs. 7-zip provides the best free alternative and the widest choice of formats. It is therefore the recommended solution to overcome the problems with Vista's compression functionality and is the best compression utility for Windows