Storage space has always been a concern for computer users. This has been such a big issue for those who were into computers in its early years since storage space was sparse and came at a premium. Though storage media for computers has steadily become larger in recent years, the need to transfer files over a network or through the internet still meant that making files smaller is still something that is desirable in today’s computing world.
Making files smaller is usually called file compression or archiving while opening them is called decompression or extracting. Separate software are usually needed to create these file archives and to open them later on. Some file compression software also allow for secure archiving by adding password protection and encryption to the file. Some software also allows to span or to divide a file archive into several smaller pieces so that they may be copied or transmitted in smaller chunks.
Over the years, several archive formats have been created and some of them have become more popular than others. Currently, the most popular file archive formats are ZIP, RAR, and 7z.
The ZIP format is one of the most popular if not the most popular formats for file compression. As proof of its popularity, Windows XP and Mac OS X 10.3 and above have zip compression and decompression included in the OS. The term “zipping” a file to refer to compression of a file was coined from the zip format as well. Among the popular file formats mentioned earlier, the zip format can be considered the least capable in creating the most compressed format, however it is sufficient for general file archive use. Zip files generally have a file extension of .zip.
The RAR format comes in close as the most popular archive format next to ZIP. However, unlike the zip format that has several available software that allow you to create zip archives, RAR files can only be created with the use of WinRAR. WinRAR is a commercial shareware product that can be downloaded for free at: http://www.rarlab.com/. Being shareware though, it pops up a nag screen every time you open it until you purchase the full license. The RAR format is much better than the ZIP format when it comes to compression so it may be a good choice for those looking for better compression of their files. RAR files have the file extension .rar, .r00, .r01, r02, and so on.
The 7z format is an open-source compression archive format that is under the GNU Lesser General Public License. The use of the 7-zip file archive software is generally the preferred software for creating and opening 7z files. The 7-zip software can be downloaded for free at: http://www.7-zip.org/. Like the RAR format, the 7z file format offers better compression than ZIP.
If you are in need of a program that is able to open all three of the archive formats, your best bet would be to download 7-zip or another program called PeaZip. Both are free and are able to open the said formats. However, if you wish to create RAR archives, your only option is to use WinRAR. Generally, you won’t need anything extra to create zip files, however, if you want better control or if you want to create zip files that span into several files, you can also get third party software like WinZip to do the job. Take note that Winzip like WinRAR is a shareware product, you will have to purchase the full license if you want to use it without being bothered by a nag screen while opening the program.
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