Software compression tools have been around for donkeys’ years, going back to the early PKWare ARC files, and even earlier on some systems, before the ZIP format was widely accepted ourside the Unix world (where TAR-GZip is the equivalent). Most Windows users will be familiar with WinZip, although our preferred ZIP program is ZipMagic, because of the way it treats ZIP archives as conventional folders.
Now, though, there’s a new contender for the crown of ‘best ZIP program’. PentaZip is not a well-known name, but the program does all that you’d expect from an archiving tool, plus quite a few things that you wouldn’t. Well, we didn’t, anyway. First, there’s the obligatory list of archive types that PentaZip will support. As well as ZIP (obviously), there’s ARJ, ARC, CAB, LZH/LHA, TAR, TAR-GZIP, ZOO, GZIP, BH, Ace, JAR and DCL Zip. Some of those are older formats, some are Unix formats, some are used to distribute Windows core files and the rest… well, we’ve never heard of Ace, BH and JAR. Perhaps we get out too much. PentaZip also has a proprietary format, ZGB, which can compress archives over the 4GB, 16,000-file limit imposed by standard 32-bit ZIP programs. Handy if you’re backing up a lot of MP3s.
PentaZip will handle these archives transparently; you can open them as folders, edit their contents or run compressed applications, and automatically save any changes back to the archive. This is useful, but it’s done within the PentaZip program area. In this respect, ZipMagic has the edge, because it can treat archives as folders regardless of their location, although it is limited to ZIP archives in this case. PentaZip will also handle encoded e-mail attachments in all the popular formats (MIME, UUencoded, etc.) and there’s an option for ‘compressing and mailing’ files via the right-click menu.
The user interface is claimed to be very friendly and simple. It is both these things, but it’s not quite the Windows standard, so some of the icons can appear a bit strange until you get used to them. Not that this is a major problem, since you can get to all the necessary features via the drop-down menus. These give you access to advanced features such as the ability to create scripts, which can be used to set up automated backup routines on a regular basis.
As you’d expect with any ZIP program worth its salt, you can choose the level of compression, protect archives with passwords, span archives across floppy disks or other removable media and create self-extracting archives so that the recipient of your e-mail or floppy disk doesn’t need any ZIP software to extract the compressed files.
Much of the disk space consumed by the program is accounted for by its built-in viewers, which let you right-click to view images, HTML documents, spreadsheets, movie files, audio files, etc. You can even edit some files from within the program This is useful for those people who need to view compressed files but don’t need – or want – to install the software to handle them all. It does make PentaZip considerably larger than other ZIP archive tools, though.
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