I think everyone who uses Windows has, at one time or another, been faced with the task of decompressing a zip archive. Probably as many people have floundered their way through the ‘net and found Winzip, the commercial zip utility for Windows which has been around since Windows95 was shiny and new.
Being the Open Source nut that I am I was never really happy with Winzip. Not because it is a bad product or that I am anti-capitalist (See the L of this blogs name on that topic) but because it is such a ubiquitous operation that many people, especially in a business environment, end up using Winzip unregistered for months, even years. IE, everyone needs to decompress zip archives at one time or another but not often enough to justify Winzip’s price tag. In the business world I feel that if a company is going to use a commercial product they should do so legally. Either register the software or find a free alternative. The latter is where 7Zip comes in.
7Zip is an open source archiver which not only decompresses zip archives but decompresses pretty much every archive format there is. It also compresses into zip as well as it’s own 7z format. Unlike other free compression utilities on Windows I have used in the past 7zip has a polished UI and integrates well into the Windows shell (UI for you non-geeks). Not only that it is free and legal for commercial enterprises to use. This avoids the legal pitfall that many employees nudge their companies towards when they use winzip unregistered. Best of all there are command-line versions for many flavors of Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OSX and so on. This allows for a single tool to be used on a variety of platforms that may be found both in a personal and corporate environment.
Note, however, that all of these reasons ignore the technical merits of both Winzip and 7Zip. To me compression has largely become a non-issue in the past several years. Sometimes it is nice to compress things for transmission but in most cases these days the files we’re transmitting are already compressed. PNG, JPG and GIF are all compressed picture formats. AVI, MPEG-4, WMV are all compressed video formats. MP3, OGG, AAC are all compressed music formats. Running these files through an archiver provides minimal gains in filesize for a large loss in compexity.
This isn’t to say there aren’t uses for archivers such as Winzip or 7Zip, just that their uses are largely niche-related to the point where the relative technical merits of the two can be considered to be identical. IE, when faced with a zip of text files (one such valid niche for archivers) both will decompress the zip equally well. Of course when faced a myriad of other formats 7Zip shows its superiority by being able to handle more than just the format of its namesake.