"Wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things (?)"
As we say in Greece, "there's no substitute for one's own nails in case of an itch", so I took the plunge and finished it myself. This 7zipshell was a good base, which I optimized and completed using some ideas from TAR Folder shell extension. The backbone that reads into and extracts files from archives is 7zip, which includes a DLL component that does all the work. The resulting Browsable Compressed Archives NSE allows you to browse into most of the archive types supported by the open source 7-zip program, e.g:
Archives: 7Z, RAR, ARJ, GZ, GZIP, LZH, LHA, LZMA, TAR, ZIPX, JAR
Images: ISO, IMG, WIM, DMG
What's the point of browsing into archives you may ask? Why not just use a specialized program like 7-zip or winrar? The answer is that windows explorer and especially xplorer² can do many things that 7-zip cannot:
All the necessary components are bundled in an installer, for everyone's convenience. After installation you can choose which archive types you want to turn into browsable folders. You can run the NSE configuration tool after installation to add/remove types.
Minimum requirements: windows Vista or later (32 or 64 bit)
It will also work for windows XP if you have windows search 4 installed
At present the plugin can extract but not compress files into archives. A few other limitations (no multi-part archives) should be addressed in future versions. You can extract individual files using drag-drop or copy paste like in any folder. To access the native tool (e.g. 7zip), right click on the root archive "folder" and use the context menu. If you want to extract all the files from an archive instead of a few only, it is best to open it with its own program.