StuffIt Expander from Leonard Rosenthol of Aladdin Systems has become one of those programs without which you simply cannot exist on the Internet. If for some reason you've never heard of StuffIt Expander (which Aladdin refers to internally as SEx), it's a small free application that expands a number of common file formats, including all the StuffIt formats, Compact Pro archives, AppleLink packages, and BinHex files. It works primarily in drag & drop mode in System 7, and can both debinhex and expand a file without additional help from the user. It's Apple-event aware and commonly used as a helper application by many of the common Internet programs such as Anarchie, Fetch, and NCSA Mosaic. StuffIt Expander can even watch a specified folder and expand anything that appears in that folder. Sounds pretty good, right? What more could one want?
Faced with just this question, Aladdin came up with some excellent answers and built them into the just-released StuffIt Expander 3.5. The basic StuffIt Expander program remains essentially the same, and in fact Aladdin removed the capability to expand AppleLink packages. However, Aladdin also has a new shareware product, called DropStuff with Expander Enhancer (OK, so it sounds a bit like Hamburger Helper), that adds not only the capability to expand a whole slew of new formats, but also enables you to compress files by dropping them on the System 7-only DropStuff application.
The magic that makes all this possible is that Expander Enhancer is actually Aladdin's StuffIt Engine. With Expander Enhancer installed, you can expand far more compression formats, including StuffIt (.sit) and Compact Pro (.cpt) archives, ZIP (.zip) and ARC (.arc) archives; AppleLink (.pkg) packages, and gzip (.gz or .z), Unix Compress (.Z), and StuffIt SpaceSaver files. Also supported are the standard formats for transferring binary files over networks, including BinHex (.hqx), MacBinary (.bin), uucode (.uu), although btoa is notably absent considering that it's included among the StuffIt Deluxe translators. When enhanced, StuffIt Expander will also join files that were segmented with another StuffIt product. Finally, the enhanced StuffIt Expander becomes PowerPC-native, so expansion speed is increased significantly on Power Macs.
Expansion is only half of the game, though, and DropStuff provides the other half. Merely drop one or more files on DropStuff, and it immediately creates a StuffIt archive. If you drop a single file or folder, the resulting archive has the same name with .sit appended; if you drop multiple files and folders, DropStuff names the result Archive.sit. However, that's just the default way that DropStuff acts.
If you press Option while dropping an item on DropStuff, you get a dialog box that enables you to temporarily modify a number of the basic ways in which DropStuff works. You can toggle checkboxes that make DropStuff delete the originals after compressing them (pressing Control when you drop the file does this as well), stuff aliases or the original files to which they point, stuff multiple items as separate archives, make the archive self-extracting, or encrypt the archive with a password. The Preferences dialog also offers settings that control how DropStuff binhexes files. If you choose to have DropStuff binhex the file, you can set it to optionally delete the archive after binhexing it, add linefeeds (useful if your communications program doesn't add them to uploaded files), and remove the .sit from the filename (since it automatically appends .hqx to binhexed files as well). The final preferences enable you to specify where the new archive should be saved, the same place as the original, a new location of your choosing, or a pre-set destination folder.
If you run DropStuff manually (not via drag & drop), you can modify the preferences permanently for that copy of the program (it stores the configuration information internally, rather than in a preferences file). I always duplicate DropStuff and rename the copy DropBinHex. I then set the preferences for DropBinHex so that it always binhexes files in addition to stuffing them. Although it's not difficult to binhex a file by using the temporary preferences settings, I binhex files often enough that I find having two droplets easier. DropStuff is smart enough to recognize existing StuffIt archives if you try to binhex them, and it won't try to stuff them again (the same is not true of Compact Pro archives).
The combination of StuffIt Expander and DropStuff is so useful that even though I own StuffIt Deluxe, I seldom run it. Now that StuffIt Expander can use the StuffIt Engine to provide access to most of the translators that come with StuffIt Deluxe, I suspect I'll use it only when I want to manipulate the contents of archives.
The documentation that comes with DropStuff and StuffIt Expander is interesting as well for two reasons. DropStuff comes with a PictoGuide that Aladdin is very proud of. It's a TeachText file that outlines how to use DropStuff with pictures. It works pretty well, but there is also normal textual documentation in setext format. If you use Easy View to view TidBITS, you can create an Easy View view file in the folder containing the text documentation files, and browse through the six documentation files more easily.
StuffIt Expander is free, and DropStuff with Expander Enhancer is $30 shareware if you use it for more than 15 days. If you already own one of Aladdin's commercial products, StuffIt Deluxe, StuffIt SpaceSaver, or SITcomm, you need not pay the shareware fee or and you won't be bothered by the shareware notification.
You can retrieve Expander and DropStuff pretty much anywhere online, I'd think, and on the Internet at:
Frankly, if you're reading this review, you probably use the Internet, a BBS, or one of the commercial online services, and if that's true, you simply must have StuffIt Expander. And, if you ever create StuffIt archives, DropStuff is the best way of doing that. You won't go wrong with these programs, and Aladdin deserves serious Macintosh community points for making them freeware and shareware, respectively.
Aladdin Systems -- 408/761-6200 -- 408/761-6206 (fax)