When you need to save disk space, backup data or send files back and forth to others quickly and efficiently, the best way is through file compression. You can use the ZIP archive utility which is baked right into the Windows operating system to get the job done. However, the ZIP file format is fairly limited in compression capability and is lacking in extra options. If you are looking for a power user style replacement that can support multiple archive types, there are some gems out there for handling archives in Windows with great power and flexibility.
Created by Russian programmer Igor Pavlov, 7-Zip has set the gold standard for file archive utilities. Although the user interface is probably not the most intuitive for novices, the settings are quite customizable and the ability to really take full control over 7z output settings really helps you wring out every last bit of savings possible in your archives. The software is licensed under an LGPL 2.1 license, making this suitable for home and commercial use.
Unlike the aforementioned 7-Zip tool, ALZip aims to deliver a very easy user interface that is more straightforward and WinZip-like in its arrangement, yet supporting more archive formats in the process. ALZip used to be a commercial product with a price tag, but it was recently re-released as a free utility, simply by using the free product key provided on the download site.
This utility supports over a dozen different archive formats for opening and creating, just like the other tools I mentioned. An interesting stand out feature, however, is the password manager, which allows you to keep track of passwords for archives without the need to memorize them. PeaZip is licensed under the LGPLv3 and is available as freeware.
Though this product isn’t freeware, however, the trial mode is quite generous and lets you test out all the features of the utility. Also, I find the SFX (self-extracting archive) creator to be one of the better ones available, allowing you to go all out in customizing destination path, package icon, and a command run area for setup programs. If you do decide to register your copy of WinRAR, it’s only $29.99, with prices that go down as you purchase additional licenses.
Though not designed to create any archives, Universal Extractor extracts from many kinds of packages, including InstallShield archives and binary blobs as well as more exotic formats, using handy deep filescan technology. The tight integration with the Windows right-click context menu is superb and you are always just a few clicks away from dumping your files to a directory.