Anyone who knows a thing or two about file compression software probably has utilized the self-extracting archive option at some point. Depending on what the package will be used for, a self-extracting EXE takes any archive management software out of the picture by doing a quick decompress job within a self-contained application. As an example, setup programs can use self-extracting archives in order to keep their overall file size down for online delivery purposes while eliminating the need to manually "unzip" the setup files to disk first.
WinZip can handle it
WinZip, a utility known as the grand-daddy of all archive software for the Windows platform, has two options available to anyone wishing to create a self-extracting archive. Either use the personal-edition SFX creator that comes with WinZip proper, or pony up for the WinZip Self-Extractor companion program. According to Corel, the current developer of the WinZip family of tools, WinZip Self-Extractor goes above and beyond what the personal edition is capable of doing, by allowing for added features like AES-encrypted archives, launching an included setup program automatically and deleting the temp files after completion, using custom icons for the compiled EXE, specifying whether or not Administrator rights are required, and more.
The interface for building an EXE is simple to navigate, since it works along the same lines as a step-by-step wizard. I was able to create a self-extracting archive that looked professional and clean, complete with a message that would appear before extraction. I can see the message part being used for simple notes, warnings and even a simple "click-through" license agreement, so long as the message stays within 512 characters. Once finished, you get an opportunity to look the archive over to ensure that it was created the way you want it.
Now comes the hard part of this review - the verdict. If I was to have reviewed WinZip Self-Extractor less than a decade ago, I would have said this software was the best for what it does. However, with perfectly capable alternative products out there that can do what WinZip's solution does, sometimes even for free, I can't see the point to this program, unless you have a dedicated usage situation that ties you to WinZip. If you take a look at 7-Zip for instance, the program can create self-extractor archives easily. Granted, you don't get fancy bells and whistles like changing the icon of your package and auto-run, but when you go to look at WinZip Self-Extractor's hefty $49.99 price tag, it makes absolutely no sense in my mind to purchase.
If Corel could come out with something new and fresh in this space, perhaps something that can cater to the new Windows 8 UI (formerly known as Metro UI) or even provide the ability to "secure" the EXE with a certificate (much like PKZIP's SecureZip does), it would better justify the $49.99 price tag. Personally though, considering that Corel has made zero improvements to the software since the late 2000s, it's unlikely to get updated anytime soon and I wouldn't recommend buying this software, at least for now, considering its limited features and user appeal. My recommendation is to stick to freeware solutions instead.
An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Customer Success Professional for Ultimate Software in Santa Ana, California.