Posted on

Fischer: A loss for WinRAR

By Travis Fischer,

Weird things are happening in the world of computer file compression.

In particular, there has been a lot of attention around WinRAR all of a sudden.

Fischer: A loss for WinRAR
Travis Fischer

For those of you that don’t spend a potentially unhealthy amount of time in front of a computer, WinRAR is a very old and very popular program that is used to compress and uncompress folders and files into neat packages with the .rar extension.

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time working with a computer, you’ve probably had to uncompress a .rar file at one point or another.

It’s a pretty simple process. First you double click on the .rar file to open it in your free trial of WinRAR. Then, you are confronted by a pop-up telling you that your free trial period has ended, asking you to purchase the full program. Finally, you close that pop-up and continue doing whatever it was you were doing.

That’s all there is to it. WinRAR’s so-called “free trial” has become legendary for the fact that, for decades now, the program’s digital rights management has effectively run on the honor system.

Sometimes software developers will put out a free version of their software with basic functionality, but lock their higher end features behind a paywall. Sometimes they’ll offer a time-limited trial version that shuts down after so many hours of use.

As near as I can tell though, in my years of using WinRAR, the only thing that paying that $30 would get you would be the removal of the prompt asking you to pay for it.

Somehow this has been a sufficient enough business model that RARLab has and continues to stay in operation to this day.

Which makes the next part of this story both surprising and yet … not.

It was recently announced that Windows 11 will soon be gaining the ability to natively unpack a variety of compressed files, such as .gz, .7z, and yes, .rar. This is the biggest advancement in Windows compression features since they introduced the ability to natively open and create .zip files back in 2000.

No longer will you need a third party program like WinRAR to open these files.

RARLab’s reaction to this news was comical and also somewhat confusing. The company’s twitter account posted the infamous meme of the cartoon dog sitting in a burning house proclaiming “This is fine.”

And yeah, I guess it isn’t great news for RARLab that Microsoft will be giving its users the ability to open .rar files natively, but at the same time it’s very difficult to understand how this hurts the WinRAR business model. Because again, this is a program that is mostly famous for nobody ever paying for it.

Mostly, it makes me curious why exactly WinRAR is so worried. What is their business model exactly? How does it work? How do you make a profit with a program that nobody ever has to buy?

Honestly, at this point, I half suspect that RARLab has incorporated this fact into their business strategy and is leaning into their place as the underdog against Microsoft to get people to buy licenses out of sympathy.

And I gotta say… it’s kind of working.

I am legitimately tempted to drop $30 out of pity and retroactively pay for the literal years of use I’ve gotten out of their program’s “40-day trial.”

— Travis Fischer is a news writer for the Charles City Press and probably won’t buy WinRAR, but is tempted.

Social Share