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After 28 years, Windows supports RAR files

Our 98SE gaming rig is surfing warez sites in 1999. Finally, we find an FTP server with “.rar,.r00,.r01, r.02” files. What’s this?

“Oh, segmented. To expand, download this program. It’s WinRAR. Beats WinZip.”

“Do we pay?”

“No…but if you’re as cheap as I think you are, it’ll keep bugging you for a quarter century until, in the grim darkness of 2023, Windows 11 finally supports the format natively.”

My friend’s prediction was amazing. How could he predict such a bleak future? How did he know Windows would skip 9 and return to sequential numbering? How did he know that I am so, shall we say, thrifty that I would wait for over two decades to finish my WinRAR task fast enough to avoid the “Please purchase WinRAR license” pop-up?

Yes, Windows now supports.rar files without additional software after more than 30 years. In the 1990s, it was one of several competing compression apps (or “applications”) used to shrink file collections to transfer them more efficiently over our slow internet.

How long did it take to download the Star Trek screensavers for After Dark from the dial-up BBS using the telnet app WhiteKnight? Overnight. It was just over 5 MB. We would have waited all day without Stuffit’s.sea (self-extracting archive).

As a young software pirate, compression was essential, but also for software distribution and “archival” purposes. I don’t know if enterprises used WinRAR as much as game and app pirates. But the fact that it has lived a full 30 years since its original development as a DOS program (28 since it arrived on Windows)—up until its most recent release last week—and still nearly small enough to fit on a 3.5′′ hard floppy suggests it found its niche.

As drive capacity and network bandwidth have increased exponentially, WinRAR has become less necessary. If you want to call your connection “broadband,” you must transfer a few megabytes in a second. Open source standards like the libarchive project have also grown.

Microsoft must have grown tired of rushing their.rar operations like I have for 20 years and decided there must be a better way. In a blog post today titled “Reducing toil,” they have a few helpful UI updates and then casually and apropos of nothing, this:

in addition

Using the open-source libarchive project, we now support tar, 7-zip, rar, gz, and others. Windows compresses archives faster.

The library has been integrated with other OSes for a long time, and native support for.rar and other archive formats is commonplace. Personally, this change is epochal.

WinRAR still has legal and illegal uses for me. I never forgot that I was doubly a pirate because I was decades past my 40-day WinRAR trial period. When my APMs dropped, I would see that nag screen and think, Am I really that petty? Will I abuse this poor shareware forever? When will I get back on track (if I ever was) and make a WinRAR app?

Reader, Purchased WinRAR.

It seems fair that I pay the cost of a coffee—about $31 these days—to support a piece of software that has traveled with me for much of my computing life. I would pay for Winamp, but few other programs have been as constant.

I don’t have this integration because I haven’t updated to Windows 11 and won’t until there’s no other option.

I’ve asked WinRAR what it thinks Windows officially adopting the format will mean for its software and business. I’ll update if I hear back.

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