When it comes to Zip/compression programs, there are so many excellent free options out there that I am constantly surprised when I receive emails from readers asking for “an alternative to Winzip”.
(You can check out a list of excellent free compression software here).
That being said, the people behind Hamster Free Zip Archiver have created a software that is noteworthy in terms of the user experience it provides and the sheer “stylishness” of its interface. It extracts a wide range of compression formats (including uncommon ones), and features very nice integration with the Windows context menu.
This program is not perfect, however; it is much slower than it should be, at least on 64 bit machines, even as it purports to be optimized for multi-core processors; but it feels good and is the kind of compression program that a designer (rather than a geek) would create.
Before I go into my list of PROs and CONs, the video below can give a sense of what this program feels like:
- Stylish interface: that will have many scrambling to remove their current zip program and to install this one. Drag and drop functionality is quite nice as well.
- Simple, straightforward context menu entries: that provide everything most users need without much fuss (and without going in and customizing the context menu entries yourself). These entries install on both 32bit and 64bit machines without problems.
- Good compression ratio: under max compression setting (see the tests I made in the CONs section below).
- Archive splitting: across many pre-defined sizes is a nice addition to the context menu (see screenshot to the right, above).
- Slow to extract: I tested it on large 2.75 gigabyte multi-part RAR archive on 64 bit Windows 7; which took 1:47.1 minutes to extract with Hamster Zip while it took a mere 0:41.7 seconds with Haozip (which happened to be the last ZIP program I wrote about before this one). Perhaps this is due to the fact that the latter program provides a native 64 version, and it may be that the test would have been much more favorable to Hamster on a 32bit machine. But whatever the reason, its purported optimization for multi core processors (I have a modern quad core) did not translate to actual speed.
- Slow to zip: again, tested against Haozip, this time zipping a random basket of 40 files of various types that amounted to 610 megs before compression. Using max compression, it took Hamster 02:19.6 minutes to create a 537 meg zipped archive; while it took Haozip less than a minute (00.41.6) to create a comparable 540 meg archive.
- Note that all measurements in the tests above were done via a stopwatch and not the programs’ on-screen dialogs.
The verdict: this is the kind of Zip program that someone who has an iPhone and shops at Target would gravitate towards (for example). In general an excellent program that looks and feels good and meets the need of most users (a.k.a your mom and your neighbor and 90% of people who don’t need high performance in their compression program). However, it is quite slow, at least on a 64 bit machine, and in this respect there are much better options out there.
Compatibility: Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7.
Go to the program home page to download the latest version (approx 380K; note that this is an online installer that will download program components when launched).