Hello Zaine (and all),
First, just to be clear, my name is Ryan Smyth and I'm the ALTools Evangelist at ESTsoft. But maybe ALVangelist sounds better~! I also maintain the ALTools English web site at http://www.altools.net (and a lot of other things too).
I've actually been using ALZip since long before I joined the company, and never looked back. I'm beyond the power-user stage and actually do a lot of programming on my own. I've released several programs but I only maintain those at my current personal site (http://renegademinds.com) and a few other programs that aren't publicly available (and probably would only be of use to only a handful of people on the planet besides myself...). I do not do any coding for ALZip or any other ALTools.
That's all just so that you know who I am to put this in context. The following is just my personal take.
That was a very in-depth review and you've done an outstanding job. I enjoyed some of the analysis and commentary on the general state of affairs inside of the compression/archiver area. It was nice that you included some history as well. You've clearly done more than just your homework, and it shows. The analysis of the archivers was really good and you've chosen a good cross-section of different programs, even though none of my friends made it in there
That being said, I humbly offer up some of my own observations and comments.
It's obvious that you're very much in favor of the RAR and 7z formats, which is fair enough. RAR is an excellent compression format and you've nailed it on the head there. I met one of the guys from RarSoft at the Shareware Industry Conference in Denver this past July (BTW - WinZip didn't win this year where it has dominated in the past), and said the same thing to him - the RAR format is excellent. He was quite happy to hear that from a competitor , but to say anything else would be lying. The facts clearly speak for themselves.
The 7z format is also very good, though I'm not a fan of the 7z program (not because it's a competitor - I just don't like the interface). If I were to pick out which of the two I think is a better format, I'd have to side with 7z because it is open source LGPL and can be integrated into other things. RAR is proprietary and just won't work with anything else because only decompression is available outside of WinRAR, as mouser pointed out when he mentioned licensing in another thread. But that's the "compatibility freak" in me.
However, personally as a developer, I'd still side with ZIP over those two as it has far more support at the moment. Part of what is going to keep ZIP popular for a very long time is vendor support from server manufacturers like Microsoft (IIS) and the Apache Foundation. Until 7z is a default MIME type, it's going to be very hard for it to become as ubiquitous as ZIP is. To illustrate that point please see this file: http://www.altools.net/portals/0/A-7z-File.7z. I can assure you that the file is there and that I've done nothing to prevent it from being downloaded. IIS is just lacking the MIME definition for the file. This effectively renders the 7z format dead for distribution on the Internet (except for email and a few other cases of course). Once MS and Apache do include the proper MIME type, things may change. I also don't really see compression ratio being that important anymore with the massive sizes of hard drives now. For larger archives (hundreds of MB or into the GB range), yes, it becomes more important, but this isn't representative of the needs of most applications. At that point, it sounds like we're not talking about compression anymore, but backup solutions, at which point things digress into an entirely different market segment.
However, the different formats each have various strengths and weaknesses that were never addressed or made clear. The ability to create CAB files isn't something that everyone needs, but you can't substitute RAR, 7z, ZIP or other formats in place of it. Same goes for JAR files. For end users they aren't that useful though. A bit of commentary on why you chose RAR and 7z would over other common formats may have been useful for users.
I would have enjoyed reading a bit more commentary on PPMd. Personally, I just think it's a bad idea to muck around with a format and break compatibility. I expect that from Microsoft.
Regarding TUGZip being able to create RAR files, I think you've been misleading there. "TUGZip" cannot create RAR files - it can detect if WinRAR is installed and use WinRAR. There is a difference. If I had to install another program, and pay for it, I really doubt that I'd use some other program to access it, especially when accessing a proprietary feature of the program I had to pay for. (Well, I'm not counting situations where I use a program like MySQL Front as a front end for MySQL - that's a client/server issue.) I can see there being the point of users wanting to keep a consistent interface though.
Matteo pointed out about making sure to compare the same format in speed and compression ratio benchmarking. I'll second that.
In any event, I would like to point out a couple errors/omissions (my misunderstanding?) in the ALZip comparison/review.
Customizable - ALZip allows a fair bit of customization in it's preferences, but I might be misunderstanding what you mean bu customization...
Command Line Support - ALZip does have command line support, but it is not as robust as you would find in WinRAR or some others. For more information, in ALZip > F1 > Miscellaneous > Command-Line Functionality or you can see this:
That's for v5.5, but is still valid.
The command line functionality in ALZip is currently well suited to light duty stuff in scripting like WSH or the like.
Keyboard Shortcuts - They are there for the most common things, but missing for archive testing and password retrieval. (I'll chat with HyoTak about this to see that we get more shortcuts in.) In the meantime what is "most"
Pause/Continue archiving - It's in there. You can even choose between Background/Foreground processing which is useful for really large archives that take a long time.
Archive Comments - ALZip supports archive level and file level comments for formats that support comments. e.g. Not TAR.
Batch Archive Extraction - Supported. For this, you need to right-click on a selection of several archives and select the option you want.
Anti-Virus Integration - This is in the preferences - F4 > Programs (tab). You can browse for your virus scanner and set parameters.
Robust Help File - I'm not sure what robust means, but the documentation is ALZip is certainly better than most software that I've ever purchased. The help file is meant to be graphically intensive as opposed to lots of text. People don't actually read them anyways, but they will "look" at them, so pictures help
FAQs - This is in the help file. There's no real need for an FAQ at the web site. FAQs generally degrade over time and become unmanageable messes. Instead, I've got an Online Support Desk (very good) and the ALTools Support Desk InfoBase that similarly will degrade like an FAQ However, with the help files and the ease-of-use for ALZip, we have very few questions from people that needs answering in an "FAQ".
Tutorial - I think this would be the "Quick Start" in the help file or the "Getting Started" page on the web site: http://www.altools.net/Default.aspx?tabid=42 They aren't massive tutorials on every aspect of the program - that's what the help file is for. But they are more than enough to kick start things for a beginner.
License Type - It's freeware for home users while commercial users have an unlimited trial period, but are asked to purchase a license. It's most certainly NOT adware. None of the ALTools have any adware, no spyware, no junkware, no third party bundled wierdness - nada, zilch, zip I really don't want people to think that ALTools are adware. The info banner in the upper right only mentions ALTools and does not serve ads for any third parties. PLEASE - Would you kindly fix this. I really don't want anyone to get the impression that we're associated with that seedy underside of the Internet...
Under the WinRAR part - "Pause during archive operation. WinRAR allows the user to pause an archive operation (creation or extraction) for whatever reason. Only 7-Zip and WinACE offer the same feature." This is in ALZip as well.
In the ALZip review before PROS - "But its lack of broader format support and dearth of options leaves it wanting." ALZip supports 36 formats (not extensions) for extraction and creates 8 formats. That's pretty good compared to anything else. It supports more extensions than that (any compatible format - extensions don't matter), but there's no real point in listing them all except as a marketing gimmick (Hey... I think I'll try that ). But Seriously, ALZip is one of the best out there in this area. To be a bit more explicit, you can rename "file.zip" to "file.anything" and ALZip will still open it correctly. That goes for all but 10 formats. As an aside, the fellow who does our Swedish translation (Leif Larsson - fantastic guy) always sends "ALZipSwe.piz" files by email, reversing the zip extention to piz. For some reason zip files get filtered for him when sending emails. The extension isn't important.
You're quite correct about a lot of things being "missing" in ALZip. Some of that is just done automatically for users. Another thing is auto-correction - there's no real reason to tell a user that a file is corrupt but fixable - it's easier and faster to just fix the error, making for a seamless experience for the end user. For other things, there's no real need to confuse most people with dictionary sizes and other techno-babble that make sense to you and me, but will only elicit dumb stares when trying to explain it to dear-old-dad or mom. ALZip is designed to do 99.9% of everything that 99.9% of people will ever need in an archiver without becoming confusing. And you've hit the nail on the head about ALZip - it's meant to be really easy to use - even for beginners.
One last thing, the ALZip format is actually ALZ, not ALS. It serves a different purpose than ZIP or other formats. The ALZ format is literally unlimited as to how large it can be. There is no theoretical limit on the size of an ALZ archive. Most people won't need it, but it is useful for people that want to archive massive amounts of data like raw video.
Well, that's about it. I hope I haven't come off as being too biased