WinZip is the best-known software for creating and opening compressed file archives, but it's not the only option and there are many superb free alternatives worth investigating before you open your wallet.
Windows (from XP onwards) has a built-in compression tool, accessed by right-clicking one or more folders/files, and selecting 'Send to > Compressed (zipped) folder'. This is fine for very occasional use, but is very limited. It can only read and create ZIP files (there are dozens of other formats), it doesn't let you create multiple volumes of a particular size, can't repair damaged archives, and doesn't support encryption. In fact, if you use it to compress an encrypted file, it will be decrypted when extracted.
It's therefore a good idea to have a different WinZip alternative on hand for compressing and opening file archives, and we've picked out the best.
7-Zip is open source, meaning it's completely free, even for commercial use. It's only 1MB in size, and can pack and unpack just about any compressed file archive you can throw at it.
7-Zip isn't the most attractive WinZip alternative around, but it's so well designed that you won't miss the slick interfaces of its paid-for equivalents. You can locate files to be archived using a simple Windows Explorer-style file tree, or drag and drop them into the main window.
Its own 7z format is designed for high compression, and is supported by almost all file archiving tools – both paid-for and free – making it an ideal choice for sharing. 7-Zip can also create self-extracting 7z archives.
You can apply password protection to packaged archives and split them into volumes, which is handy for sharing particularly large archives. The only key feature it's missing is the ability to repair damaged archives – other than that, it's a truly exceptional program.
- 7-Zip review
- Download 7-Zip
PeaZip is another open source WinZip alternative, but with a few more features in a considerably larger package (around 10MB compared to 7-Zip's 1MB).
PeaZip's standard installation will make file associations and add context menu options automatically, which you might not want if you're trying it for the first time. Select 'Custom' if you want to make your own choices.
PeaZip is compatible with pretty much every compressed file format there is. PEA, its own format, prioritizes security over compression, with optional integrity check and authenticated encryption. Unlike 7-Zip, it can repair damaged archives.
Its handy extra features include the ability to convert archive formats and test archives for errors. It can't batch compress or watermark images as some of the other tools here can, but can rotate and crop them for you.
- PeaZip review
- Download PeaZip
Many free Winzip alternatives hide their best features behind a complex system of menus. Ashampoo Zip Free is a rare exception, with a clear interface and an optional touch mode with larger, tap-friendly icons.
Many of the options shown on the main splash screen are links to paid applications like dedicated encryption and decryption tools, but don't let this put you off; all the essentials that you'll find in other free file compression software are present and correct, including archive creation, extraction, repair, and multi-volume ZIP writing.
Interestingly, Ashampoo Zip Free also gives previews of files before you extract an archive. This can be very useful, but it happens automatically so don't be alarmed if a music file begins playing on mouseover.
Ashampoo Zip Free doesn't offer an overwhelming number of options, and each of its features is clearly presented and explained. Advanced users may prefer the more fine-grained customization provided by tools like 7-Zip, but for the average user this is an excellent choice.
- Download Ashampoo Zip Free
Zipware looks as good as any premium file compression software, and is wonderfully simple to use. Simply choose 'New' or 'Open', choose your source file or archive, tweak a few optional settings and you're done.
Zipware's standout feature is integrated virus-scanning: if an archive is under 32GB, you can check it for threats with VirusTotal. This is unlikely to be of interest to power users, but is a helpful addition for anyone who's unsure about extracting downloaded archives (or who knows someone with a tendency to accidentally open such things).
Zipware is free to use, but if you decide to stick with it, the website invites you to make a donation to support its development – a reasonable request if you can afford it.
- Download Zipware
Hamster Zip Archiver is another free alternative to WinZip that's as well designed as many paid-for applications. Navigation is straightforward, with intuitive touches like a simple slider for adjusting the level of compression and the ability to upload archives to cloud services.
However, this simplicity comes at a price. Hamster Zip Archiver offers far fewer options when creating archives, and although it can open a wide range of compressed file formats, it can only create ZIP and 7z files.
There is one drawback to watch out for: Hamster Zip Archiver's main installer is in English, but if you choose to update the software manually you may find yourself presented with a few options in the developer's native Russian. Take care not to accidentally agree to install any additional extra software or browser plugins that you don't want.
- Download Hamster Zip Archiver
- Keep your PC running smoothly with the best free PC optimization software