File compression and archiving software remains among the most popular downloads, even though Windows integrates a basic but capable compression utility. Aftermarket archive tools tend to be faster, more powerful, and more capable than the Windows utility, and you've got plenty of them to choose from, too -- many of them freeware. We've tried all the big names, including WinZip, 7-Zip, and WinRAR. One tool we haven't tried before is B1 Free Archiver, and we wish we had. This free file compression and archiving solution has a lot going for it, such as wide compatibility with popular archive file types, strong security features such as encryption, and plenty of support, including user and developer communities. B1 has most of the features that the competition offers, starting with Explorer menu integration. But B1 is easier to use than a lot of tools with similar capabilities, including not only the popular freeware but also some powerful shareware packages, too.
Installing B1 presents the user with a Welcome screen that starts with language options. A setup wizard walked us through each step, though experienced users can simply skip to B1's user interface. We used the wizard, which began by defining double-click action and includes options such as password protection and compression settings. B1's file associations include the most popular formats like ZIP and RAR as well as its own B1 extension, and it also opens 7-Zip's file format, 7Z. It's also possible to configure B1 to extract files to a preselected archive with a single click. The Welcome wizard closed, and we turned our attention to B1's well-designed user interface, which displayed a file list below an equally well-configured toolbar. Three buttons manage most of the action: Create, Open, and Extract, plus a Help button accessing an extensive Help file. We extracted ZIP and 7Z files and also compressed and uncompressed archives in the B1 format. Pop-ups simplify the process of setting up each step. We also like the B1 format's powerful compression ratio.
As we noted, we're impressed by B1 Free Archiver. Anyone looking for a good compression utility should give it a try.