Aladdin Systems’ StuffIt


So you think WinZip rules the roost among file-compression programs? Maybe you should just StuffIt. Literally.

Aladdin Systems Holidngs Inc.’s StuffIt first became available for the Macintosh in 1988. In 1995, Aladdin released some elements for Windows as freeware and shareware.

This latest version (5.5)–the first commercial release for the PC–works with Windows 95, 98, NT 4.0, and Windows 2000. If you want to see what WinZip has to offer before you fork over your dough, a 30-day trial version of StuffIt is available from Aladdin’s site. The Windows version of the fabled Macintosh file masher costs US$29.95, or $9.95 if you own a competing compression package.

StuffIt offers the flexibility of an additional compression format without giving up the platform-standard .zip format. Aladdin says that StuffIt’s .sit format results in 20 percent smaller files than the .zip format on average, and StuffIt shrank files more slowly than the ubiquitous WinZip did. My tests were limited and informal, but they generally seem to support Aladdin’s claims.

Like most archive programs, StuffIt also supports a number of compression formats aside from its favored .sit files. StuffIt not only supports creation and expansion of the ubiquitous .zip archives, but it also gives you a choice of as many as ten other compression formats: .ace, .arc, .arj, .cab, .gz, .lzh, .rar, .sit, .tar, and .tgz. Three of these, .ace, .arj, and .rar, require the presence of their respective compression programs on your PC.

In addition, StuffIt can decode Mime/Base 64, UUencoded files, and BinHex (.hqx) or MacBinary (.bin) from the Macintosh platform. There’s also support for Linux and UNIX .tar and .gzip files. You can set any of the supported compression types as your default, and, for certain file types, you can manually set the level of compression.

Unleashing StuffIt

Like other compression utilities, StuffIt provides a useful degree of integration with Windows Explorer. The painless installation from CD-ROM took only 9MB of my hard disk space, and I found StuffIt’s blue-and-gray icon (an image of a disk in a vise) had replaced the golden WinZip file-cabinet icon on my desktop. StuffIt also added three new shortcuts: the StuffIt Browser, DropStuff, and Aladdin Expander.

The DropStuff and Aladdin Expander icons open small windows into which you can drag and drop files to be compressed or decompressed. Once StuffIt has done its job, the new archive or expanded file appears in the original directory into which you dragged the file.

StuffIt has some of the same interface/ease-of-use options that you’ll find with the most popular compression utilities, including WinZip. You can make quick archives by right-clicking on the file to be compressed and selecting DropStuff or DropZip from the pop-up menu that appears. From there you can send the resulting archive to e-mail, floppy, or your Desktop (among other destinations).

At the heart of the program is the StuffIt Browser, the program’s nerve center. This Windows Explorer-like shell allows you to create, decompress, and manipulate archives either by clicking the brightly colored icons along the top of the screen or by selecting an option from one of the menus.

All this stuffing and unstuffing may sound complicated, but it’s easy to figure out when you use the program. In the course of my testing, I rarely had to use the documentation–a 14-page printed booklet and Acrobat Reader file.

StuffIt Squeeze

Of course, one measure of file compression software is the size of the archives it produces, and StuffIt’s native format (.sit) is no slouch. When I pitched StuffIt’s .sit files in a head-to-head against .zip archives (created using the market-leading WinZip 8.0) with both programs set for maximum compression, StuffIt consistently produced smaller archives–one was smaller by almost 60 percent. I did my tests using a generic 450-MHz Pentium II with Windows 98 and 128MB of RAM. It took considerably longer for StuffIt to produce its .sit files than for WinZip to crank out its .zip archives. Generally with compression software, the greater the compression, the longer the compression process takes.

I started small. First, WinZip crunched a 73KB Microsoft Word document down to 24.2KB. StuffIt hammered the same file down to 21.4KB–making it 13 percent smaller. However, when I crunched a 2.38MB directory of Word files, StuffIt managed to crunch it to 602KB and WinZip to 594KB–about 1 percent smaller.

When I tested the file compressors with a 280KB TurboTax data file, WinZip scrunched it to 117KB, while StuffIt compressed it to 113KB–4 percent smaller. A 2.25MB screen shot in .bmp format was reduced to 581KB by WinZip but to 463KB by StuffIt–a drop in size of about 25 percent.

WinZip turned a 5.17MB Microsoft Excel spreadsheet into a 952KB WinZip archive, and StuffIt created a 595KB StuffIt archive–an improvement of a whopping 60 percent.

StuffIt Support

A couple of snags popped up here and there. The StuffIt Browser doesn’t permit direct access to the Windows Desktop; you have to dig down into C:\Windows\Desktop to display those files. And versatile as it is, StuffIt does not support some compression formats I use. I still deal with Amiga archives occasionally, and while StuffIt supports the older .lzh format, it can’t read the more recent and more compact .lha and .lzx files (from the LHARC compression program).

On the other hand, WinZip supports 17 compression and encoding programs, and it does work with .lha files, albeit through an external program.

But Amiga compatibility isn’t a consideration for most users. StuffIt worked well and intuitively, reduced file sizes–significantly in some cases–and has the potential to introduce real competition into a field where WinZip has long been a standard. If you frequently exchange files with Macintosh users or want to get the most you can out of your storage space, this utility is worth a try.

Copyright 2000 PC (US), International Data Group Inc. All rights reserved.

Prices listed are in US currency.