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The Commercialisation
Of File Compressors

At one time in the early 2000s virtually all file compressors were free (and the few that weren't had negligible sales).

However this situation changed slightly in 2006 when the major file compressor developers began trying to commercialise their products.

Whether this will be successful, though, remains to be seen.

The dominance of Windows and the native ability of XP and Vista to open .Zip files (as well as the large number of older, free versions of WinZip available online plus the latest free incarnation of PKZip) mean that it's very likely that Zip file compressors will remain largely free no matter what happens.

Similarly, WinRAR's rise to commercial status has also been dealt a heavy blow by the ability of other file compressors to read and write .Rar files.

This being so, few of the manufacturers strongly enforce their trialware periods at the present time (most of the software simply turns into nagware at the end of the free trial rather than stops working).

So - despite appearances to the contrary on their web sites - you only really need to buy a file compressor if you believe that this is the right thing to do (but having said that, if you like the software and use it often then it probably is).

Other File Compression Software Resources

File Compression Software
Background: File compression programs allow you to conserve disk space and bandwidth by reducing the size of files.

Most popular file compression programs use a variation of either the Lempel-Ziv compression method or the Hauffman compression method, but some newer compressors achieve even higher compression rates using an algorithm called arithmetic coding.

The earliest file compression program was ARC, which was developed in the mid-1980s. But the first one to come into widespread general use was PKZIP in 1989 (which popularised the .Zip file format).

However, PKZIP's leadership was usurped by WinZip in the mid-1990s. WinZip was specifically developed as a file archiver and compressor for Microsoft Windows and was included with all versions of Windows from Windows95 onwards. This quickly decimated PKZIP's market share.

Today there are a wide number of file compression programs available. But since market dominance requires that both the sender and receiver have a compressor which can create and extract files in the same compressed format, most of the smaller compressors (as defined by market share) have had a very tough time gaining traction even when they offer superior compression to .Zip files (which many do).

One which has had good success is WinRAR. This was developed by Eugene Roshal in 1993 and has gone on to become the second most popular file compressor for the Microsoft Windows platform next to WinZip. In fact, the .Rar format has become so popular in recent years that WinZip now supports it (and WinRAR supports .Zip files!) 

These two file compressors - and four other popular ones - are listed below:


Popular File Compression Programs
WinZip was originally developed by WinZip Computing Inc in the mid-1990s as a file compressor for Microsoft Windows. The software has been included free with all versions of Windows since Windows95 (which has helped make it the most common and popular file compressor in the Windows world). WinZip Computing was acquired by Corel Corporation in May 2006, and since version 10 Corel now sell the software as a commercial product for Windows 2000, XP and Vista in both basic and professional versions. However, because XP and Vista can now open .Zip files as "compressed folders", WinZip's sales have dropped away. WinZip normally has a 45-day free evaluation period, but in some versions it continues to work even when the evaluation period has expired. Get WinZip.


WinRAR is the second-most popular file compressor next to WinZIP (proven by the fact that the latest WinZip will now extract .RAR files) and it will compress and extract files in both its native .RAR format and in .ZIP format, as well as many others). WinRAR gained its popularity because it's capable of producing compressed files that can be as much as 50% smaller than .ZIPs, and apart from Windows it's also available in versions for Mac, Linux and other platforms. WinRAR is distributed as trialware (after the free trial period expires it will continue to work, but will display a splash screen requesting that you buy it) and is available in 55 languages apart from English. Personally, we prefer WinRAR to WinZip because of its high compression, speed and ease of use. It's been our own default file compressor of choice for several years. Get WinRAR.


WinUHA - previously known as UHARC - is a high-compression program that achieves slightly better results than either WinZip or WinRAR. WinUHA has found a small but devoted audience world-wide and it's available for the Windows platform only as donationware. Personally, we've found that WinUHA is slow to use on older versions of Windows (it may be much faster on more recent versions - we haven't tested it there). It's also not as intuitive as WinRAR or WinZIP, and the space savings it makes aren't significantly different enough to WinRAR to make us swap. But that's only our opinion and others disagree (WinUHA has won several awards). Get WinUHA.


7-Zip7-Zip is an open source file archiver originally designed for Windows which is now also available for Mac, Linux and other platforms. It was developed in 2000 by Igor Pavlov and unlike WinZip or WINRAR is distributed as freeware. 7-Zip will compress files in its proprietary .7z format as well as .ZIP, .GZIP, .BZIP2 and .TAR; and it will uncompress .7z files as well as .ZIP, .RAR, .CAB, .ISO, .ARJ, .LZH, .CHM, .MSI, .WIM, .Z, .CPIO, .RPM, .DEB and .NSIS. 7-Zip can achieve astonishing compression ratios on some file types if you use its .7z format and will do 2-10% better on .ZIP formats too. We like this software a lot, and so do Sourceforge who gave it two awards in 2007 (for Best Project and Best Technical Design). Get 7-Zip.


StuffIt was originally developed by Raymond Lau in 1987 as a file compressor for the Mac platform. It worked in a similar way to .ZIP and quickly became the dominant file compressor for Macs after its initial release (in fact, it was included with Macs right up to the Mac OS X v10.4 in 2005). It's now a third-party utility add-on, but still very handy for Mac users to have since it will decompress certain file formats that the inbuilt Mac file compressor won't. Stuffit is now offered for both Mac and Windows platforms as 30-day trialware by Smith Micro Consumer Software. Get StuffIt.


Phil Katz's PKZip was the first widely-used file compressor on the Windows platform until its dominant market share was overtaken by WinZip in the mid-1990s. Even so, PKZip is still around (in January 2008 it was up to Version 11) and it is interoperable with WinZip (ie both PKZip and WinZip support each others' files). And since April 2007, PKZip can now be obtained as freeware under the name of SecureZip Standard. Get PKZIP (SecureZip Standard).
This page last updated: 07-Aug-2008


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