Most tar commands also unzip files (and can create them): for unzipping, tar xvzf yourfile.gz will probably work on Linux and a lot of other Unix systems without going near Perl. Its a bit dirty, but if you are doing it in a Perl script, you can do that as a system command enclosed in backticks. However the other methods suggested are much more preferable if you are doing this within Perl.
This is nonsense!
GNU tar can decompress on the fly, but it DOES NOT decompress non-tar files:
/tmp>tar xvzf foo.txt.gz
tar: This does not look like a tar archive
tar: Skipping to next header
tar: Exiting with failure status due to previous errors
-rw-r--r-- 1 alex users 527 Dec 29 21:21 foo.txt.gz
If you choose to use external tools, use the proper tools. tar is the wrong tool for handling arbitary gzip-compressed files. gzip with the -d switch, gunzip, and zcat are the right tools.
Today I will gladly share my knowledge and experience, for there are no sweeter words than "I told you so". ;-)
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