WinZip is the best-known software for creating and opening compressed file archives, but it's not cheap 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. Have we missed your preferred tool? Let us know in the comments below.
The best free WinZip alternative, with no frills and no strings attached
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.
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.
Review and where to download: 7-Zip
Another great WinZip alternative. Larger than 7-Zip, but with more features
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, prioritises 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.
Review and where to download: PeaZip
An excellent free WinZip alternative if you're new to file compression
Free WinZip alternative Zipware 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.
This free WinZip alternative free to use, but if you decide to stick with it, the website invites you to make a donation to support its development. The software itself doesn't nag you for money though.
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).
Download here: Zipware
A free WinZip alternative that's optimized for touchscreens
Ashampoo Zip Free's main features are presented as Windows-style tiles, but here the free program's limitations start to show, with paid-for features like encryption and archive format conversion (which are included with open source tools) locked out until you open your wallet.
This free WinZip alternative redeems itself with a very clear interface, which has an optional touch mode with larger, tap-friendly icons. All of the key features are immediately obvious rather than hidden behind ribbons and menus. Interestingly, it also gives previews of files before you extract an archive. This happens automatically, so don't be alarmed if a music file begins playing on mouseover.
You aren't given many choices when creating archives; most of the interesting features come into play when you're unpacking and sharing.
Download here: Ashampoo Zip Free