Sending and receiving large files: It’s something we all need to do. Even cloud storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive can’t replace the convenience of a quick email. But email poses problems, starting with the strict limits that many ISPs impose on the size of file sent or received. To get the file size down without losing important data, you zip it with compression software.If you’re willing to fork over some cash, you can opt for a commercial compression application, such as WinZip or WinRAR. But each sells for about $30. Luckily, these paid applications aren’t your only options when it comes to compression tools. There are some fantastic free alternatives out there. Some are even open source.
To compare these free alternatives to their commercial cousins, I created a 30MB folder full of PDF files and compressed it with each program. Doing so with WinZip created a 26MB folder—still too big for most email services. WinRAR fared better, compressing the folder down to an impressive 14.3MB, which would get those files through anything but the most draconian mail restrictions.
Now let’s see how the free alternatives fare.
7-Zip is a well-known open-source alternative to paid compression software. It has earned a large user base, despite its plain (almost dull) interface because it works well—and for most people, that’s more than enough to make up for bland design.
PeaZip has a lot going for it right out of the gate. It’s open-source, it claims to open up to 150 different kinds of compressed files, and it has a portable version that doesn’t require installation. True, its interface is a bit plain, but I can forgive that when considering the pros of using PeaZip. You can specify your own file size for each piece, or choose one of the pre-set sizes. For example, if you wanted to email a 30MB folder, you could split it up into two chunks, one of them 24.5MB and the other one 1.5MB, and send them separately. However, the person at the other end would need the PeaZip software to put it all back together again.
Hamster Free Zip Archiver makes a great first impression, especially compared to all-business 7-Zip and PeaZip, thanks to its attactive user interface and a bouncy GIF animation. From the start, Hamster feels fresh and new, a pleasure to look at and use.
Zippy contenders.Having compression software on your PC is a must. If money were no object, I would opt for WinRAR, as its compression abilities are very impressive. But, when considering only the free options, I’d choose PeaZip, thanks to its strong security features and impressive compression options. I’d also keep Universal Extractor on hand for opening those rarer compression formats.
For occasional compression, the free alternatives hold their own against the paid stalwarts—especially when you consider features such as secure deletion, strong encryption, and the ability to send files by chopping them up into sizes of your choosing.