7-zip – A Great WinRAR & WinZip Alternative

Are you tired of WinRAR or Winzip pestering you to register? Well, 7-zip is a great completely free alternative that is just as powerful as either of these compression applications.

First, get started by downloading the the installation file from here.

Installation is completely straight forward (keep hitting next and tick “I accept” when prompted). and the application itself is also very easy to use. What we’ll want to do first is set the appropriate file associations for the program. Depending on your security settings, you may need to run the program as an Administrator in order to apply such changes. Right-click the link to 7-zip file manager in the start menu and click “Run as Administrator” as below.

7zip-file-manager run as administrator

Then click “Tools -> Options”.

7zip-file-manager-options

The first tab is System and contains a list of all the possible file extensions that you can associate 7-zip with. You can just click “Select All” at the bottom, which will tick all of the extensions. If you want, you can also customize the way 7-zip integrates into context menus by clicking the 7-zip tab and making appropriate selections. When you are finished, click OK to apply the changes.

7zip-file-manager-extension

There are two ways of using 7-zip to actually extract files. You could double click on a compressed file to open up the program itself, or you could simply use the context menus in Explorer to do so – both are quite self-explanatory. If you double click on a compressed file, a window will pop up and you just need to click “Extract” and select the destination for file extraction.

7zip-file-manager-extract

All the same options are available with Explorer’s context menu. To access the context menu, simply right-click on a file. If you wish to select a destination folder for extraction, simply select “Extract files…” and you will be prompted for a destination.

7zip-file-manager context menu

Compressing files is equally simple, and again can all be done through the context menu in Explorer. Naturally, this works on any numbers of folders and files you wish to select in one go. Simply right-click on the file(s) and select 7-zip, then “Add to archive…”.

7zip-file-manager add to archive

This will bring up an option box in which you can select a number of variables to compress the file. It defaults to 7z, but if you plan on sharing the file, it’s best to stick to zip.

One limitation of 7-zip is that it cannot compress to RAR files (although it can extract them). This is due to licensing restrictions surrounding the rar format. If you don’t mind waiting a bit longer for the files to compress, you can select a higher compression rate to shrink the file-size further – however, keep an eye on the “Memory usage” section just below as it might use a lot of system resources to compress a file at the Ultra level. If you wish to split the volume into numerous files so you can spread a big file over numerous USB sticks for example, you can make use of the “Split to volume” section. You can also set a password in the encryption settings, and encrypt filenames too if you wish. When you have finished making your option choices, click OK. In most cases, you should really only need to change the archive format.

7zip-file-manager-archive option

In conclusion, 7-zip is a strong contender to replace WinRAR as the compression utility of choice for power users of Windows. Its streamlined interface and status as free software really make it stand out as a solid offering.

7-zip is available for Linux and Mac as well.