7-Zip’s remit is simple: it compresses and decompresses files. With hard drives and SSDs now larger and cheaper than ever, you might well wonder just why such tools are still needed. Two key reasons are the internet (compressing files means they can be sent and received faster) and security (compressed files can be encrypted and password-protected).

You can also make self-extracting compressed archives that you can send to others without having to worry about what software they have installed.

Whether you’re looking to save space, secure data, or just back up your important data in an efficient manner, 7-Zip has all the bases covered.

7-Zip is free, fast and tiny. As well as the all-important Zip format, there’s support for the creation of numerous other types of compressed file including 7z, BZIP2 and TAR.

Things are even more impressive when it comes to 7-Zip’s decompression support; the list is seriously lengthy: AR, ARJ, CAB, CHM, CPIO, CramFS, DMG, EXT, FAT, GPT, HFS, IHEX, ISO, LZH, LZMA, MBR, MSI, NSIS, NTFS, QCOW2, RAR, RPM, SquashFS, UDF, UEFI, VDI, VHD, VMDK, WIM, XAR and Z.

The fact that ZIP and RAR files are covered is reason enough to install 7-Zip right away – everything else is a bonus. Compression rates in the program’s native format are particularly impressive.

If you need to be able to work with anything other than regular zip files, 7-Zip is ideal for the job. A tool that easily falls under the heading ‘essential’.

User experience

7-Zip can be used in two ways. The first option is to fire up the main program window and work with compressed files through the file manager. The second is to use the context menu, which gives you access to a key set of options by simply right-clicking on files.

7-Zip’s file manager’s interface is a little confusing. Unlike most compression tools, there’s no option to create a new compressed archive and then add files to it. Instead, you have to begin by selecting the files and then then compress them.

7-Zip’s various configurable settings are likely to be off-putting to a beginner. There’s little, if anything, in the way of explanation for many of the options. That said, the default settings will work just fine for most people, and key options such as whether an archive should be password-protected or not are fairly self-explanatory.

A friendlier way to work with 7-Zip is to use the context menu. After you’ve selected one or more files in Windows, the right-click menu enables you to add them to a compressed archive in a few clicks. There are other options such as zipping files and adding them to an email which is a nice time-saver.

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