Review: StuffIt Deluxe 4.5
Published by: Aladdin Systems, Inc.
Phone: (408) 761-6200
Fax: (408) 761-6202
List Price: $130
System 7.1.1 or higher
4 MB of RAM
StuffIt Deluxe from Aladdin Systems is the standard in Macintosh compression software. Most Macintosh files on the Internet or on online services are compressed with StuffIt. In addition, StuffIt can expand files from many other compression programs, making it a very useful piece of software to own.
StuffIt is useful for many things. It can speed up transfers of files over modems and networks by reducing the amount of data that needs to be sent. It reduces the number of floppy disks or removable cartridges needed to hold files and allows large files to be spread across multiple disks. It is also useful for squeezing more data onto hard disks.
Compression programs make files smaller by finding more efficient ways of representing the data they contain. There are many ways of doing this, and I don't have space to go into detail here, but the result of compression is that the file is usually reduced to about 50% of its original size. Large text files usually compress a bit more than this, while JPEG graphics files and QuickTime movies (which already employ their own sort of compression) don't compress as much. Compressing files can take anywhere from seconds to minutes to hours, depending on how large the file is, what speed computer it is being compressed on, and several other factors. A file compressed with StuffIt or any other compression program in its class must be expanded before it can be used; once expanded, it becomes an exact duplicate of the original file.
StuffIt Deluxe is a package that performs very few tasks, but does them extremely well. It also goes to great lengths to give the user many different ways of accomplishing the same thing. StuffIt Deluxe is really two compression programs in one: StuffIt Deluxe and StuffIt SpaceSaver. StuffIt Deluxe is a full-featured compression program made for archiving files. It is the main component of the package, and when people refer to a file that is stuffed, or if you see a file whose name ends in '.sit', the file in question is compressed with StuffIt Deluxe. StuffIt SpaceSaver, the other component of the StuffIt Deluxe package, is an automatic compression program that uses a different compression routines than StuffIt Deluxe and is designed to transparently increase the capacity of your hard disk. Aladdin uses the terms 'archived' and 'stuffed' to refer to files compressed with StuffIt Deluxe, and the word
'compressed' to refer to SpaceSaver compressed files. I will do the same for this review.
Changes In StuffIt Deluxe
StuffIt Deluxe 4.5 is a modest improvement over version 4.0, the first product I reviewed after joining the ATPM staff a little more than two years ago. The most notable change is that the Browser is now compatible with Mac OS 8. Other feature additions include support for more file types such as MIME and LHA, as well as the ability to decrypt Aladdin PrivateFile documents and mount Aladdin ShrinkWrap disk images. Finally, you can now perform common operations from a contextual menu in the Finder.
The True Finder Integration control panel makes it possible to perform almost all StuffIt tasks without ever opening the main application. Double-clicking an archive file in the Finder opens a browser window showing the files and folders in the archive, as well as statistics about how much space is being saved. Files and folders can be stuffed by dragging them into the browser window and expanded by dragging them out of it. You can also manipulate files and folders in the archive just as easily as if they were inside a normal folder. You can even open certain types of files such as text documents and PICT graphics by double-clicking them while they are still in the archive. This opens the appropriate StuffIt Viewer, which lets you view, and sometimes edit, files while they are still in the archive. Once you've used StuffIt Browser, you won't know how you ever got along without it.
There are quite a few different ways to stuff files. This is because different people find different methods more intuitive. To stuff a file or folder, you can:
- Select it in the Finder and choose 'Stuff' from the 'Magic Menu' that True Finder Integration adds to the Finder.
- Drag and drop the file or folder onto the DropStuff application.
- Add the suffix '.sit' or '.sea' to the name of the file or folder. Adding '.sit' creates an archive, while adding '.sea' creates a self-extracting archive that you can give to people who don't have StuffIt.
- Open the StuffIt Deluxe application, create a new archive, and add the file or folder to that archive.
- Drag and drop the file or folder into an open StuffIt Browser window in the Finder.
- Select it in the Finder and choose 'Stuff' from the contextual menu.
There are also many different ways to expand files. To expand an archive, you can:
- Select it in the Finder and choose 'Expand' from the 'Magic Menu.'
- Drag and drop the file or folder onto the StuffIt Expander application.
- Remove the suffix '.sit' or '.sea' from the name of the archive.
- Open the archive in the StuffIt Deluxe application and expand individual files.
- Drag and drop files or folders out of the StuffIt Browser window.
- Select it in the Finder and choose 'Expand' from the contextual menu.
These procedures may sound difficult to remember, but after using StuffIt for a short period of time they become second nature. While you only really need to know one way of stuffing and expanding files to use the program effectively, sometimes one method is more efficient than another.
The StuffIt Expander drag and drop application can be used for expanding and decoding just about any file from the Internet and is probably the most useful part of the entire package. You can tell it which types of files you want expanded, and even tell it to 'watch' a folder. For instance, if you select your Netscape download folder as the 'watch folder,' whenever you download a file with Netscape, it will automatically be decoded and expanded.
In addition, StuffIt Deluxe has some advanced features such as the ability to encrypt archives so they cannot be expanded without a password, and the ability to break archives up into segments. Segmenting is useful if you want to distribute a large archive over a set of floppy disks or other removable media. With the DropSegment application, segmenting is now as simple as drag and drop. For people who like to write macros, StuffIt Deluxe can also integrate well with QuicKeys, AppleScript, and UserLand Frontier. The reference section of the manual describes how you can control StuffIt Deluxe with AppleScript. In addition, because the main compression engine is an extension, other programs can utilize its capabilities. For instance, ShrinkWrap, a disk image utility, can automatically stuff its files if you have StuffIt installed, and disk cataloging programs such as FindIt can locate files within StuffIt archives.
SpaceSaver is a separate component of the StuffIt Deluxe package that uses a different compression method than the rest of the package and performs an entirely different task. It is dedicated to transparently increasing the amount of data that can be stored on your hard disk. It can compress files automatically during idle time, or on demand via similar techniques as StuffIt Deluxe. However,
SpaceSaver compresses each file individually; it does not create archives. You can have SpaceSaver compress or not compress files based on their label, their modification dates, or by keywords in their names such as 'small' and 'big'. Whenever you open a SpaceSaver compressed application or file, it is automatically expanded.
The problem is that SpaceSaver runs rather slowly on even the fastest of Macs. I fact, it doesn't seem to be much faster than StuffIt Deluxe. It is nowhere near as transparent a product as Symantec's AutoDoubler, its closest rival. This could be because AutoDoubler expands only the portions of files that are needed, and does so into RAM, rather than onto the disk. Also, SpaceSaver doesn't save as much disk space as StuffIt Deluxe does. On typical files on my hard disk, it averaged only about 30% savings. StuffIt SpaceSaver can be useful if you need to increase the capacity of your hard disk in a pinch, but be aware that using it incurs a huge performance penalty. If you are serious about a transparent compression program, you should look into AutoDoubler, a part of Symantec's Norton DiskDoubler Pro package (reviewed in ATPM 2.06). However, with the rapidly decreasing costs of additional hard disk space, a new drive is probably the most cost-effective solution.
The Shareware Alternative
If you decide that you don't need all the features of the full StuffIt Deluxe package, Aladdin has shareware programs that perform many of the same tasks. StuffIt Lite is similar to the main StuffIt Deluxe application, although it isn't quite as full-featured. In addition, DropSuff and StuffIt Expander are available as shareware, and can compress and expand just as well as StuffIt Deluxe, except that they don't give you the True Finder Integration control panel, which lets you stuff files by renaming them, and includes the StuffIt Browser and Finder menu. In my opinion, the main reason to buy the entire StuffIt Deluxe package is the StuffIt Browser.
Nothing Is Perfect
The StuffIt Deluxe package comes close to being ideal. However, there are several improvements that could be made. A serious flaw (and the reason I did not give StuffIt Deluxe an Excellent rating) is that stuffing and expanding using Magic Menu or the StuffIt Browser do not take place in the background. Stuffing and expanding should take place in the background all of the time. At present, this only happens when the StuffIt Deluxe application or one of the drag-and-drop applications is used. Also, it should be possible to queue tasks. For instance, it would be nice to be able to drag a file into a Browser window, regain control of the Finder, select an archive, choose expand from the menu, and have these tasks be executed one after another. (Symantec's DiskDoubler Pro, StuffIt's principle competitor has offered this feature for at least three years now.) As it stands now, you must wait for the operation to complete before regaining control of the Finder, though you can switch to another application while the Finder is busy.
StuffIt Deluxe is a full-featured compression solution. It offers excellent speed and savings, and with the new version you can now use the StuffIt Browser again. It is integrated well with the Finder, and is very intuitive to use. The manual--should you need to refer to it--is first rate. If you are looking for a well-refined compression program, or a utility to decode files from the Internet, look no further than StuffIt Deluxe.