P.O. Box 10991
Blacksburg, VA 24062-0991
Rating: 9 penguins
Every now and then I see a freeware or shareware application that impresses me. Downline from Eric Bloodworth of Morpheus Systems is the latest application to fit into this category and is truly excellent. I highly recommend it to everyone on the Internet and to people who must deal with Binhex 4.0 and StuffIt 1.5.1 files on a regular basis.
Like many successful programs, Downline has a simple purpose, to create Binhex and StuffIt 1.5.1 files and to deBinhex and unStuff files. Lots of programs do this. However, with Downline, Eric has paid close attention to the human interface and come up with one that you can completely ignore after taking care of some initial settings. These settings appear in a large dialog box that opens the first time you run Downline and whenever you choose Set Options... from the File menu. (You can also make them appear automatically by holding down a modifier key when you launch Downline.) The primary settings include Input Folder, Output Folder, and what actions to perform. Files placed in the Input Folder will have the specified actions performed on them and the results will be placed in the Output Folder. Simple, no? The actions, as I said above, include unStuffing a file, deBinhexing a file, unPacking a file (it even knows about PackIt archives), or Stuffing and Binhexing files.
There are plenty of other minor options, such as whether or not Downline should put the results in a folder (rather than strew all the files from the archive around in the Output Folder), whether or not Downline should delete files after it has deBinhexed and unStuffed, how often Downline should scan its Input Folder, if Downline should keep track of all the email headers to Binhex files along with a log of all the actions it performs, and what to do with unprocessable files such as Compact Pro archives. You can easily set and forget these options, at which point you can get down to using Downline.
Like many people, I snag a software in bunches from the nets. I use a mail server at LISTSERV@RICEVM1.BITNET for many files, so they come into uAccess (the excellent UUCP software for the Mac from ICE Engineering) as normal mail files. It is trivial to save the mail file into my Input Folder, where it joins all the others I've received since I last ran Downline (I also usually save files from AOL and a local BBS into the Input Folder). Then I choose a Downline alias from the Apple menu and Downline obliges by defunking all the files that it can and placing them in the Output Folder, which in my case is the desktop. (Otherwise I tend to forget about the files.) My settings have Downline store the StuffIt files in a Downline Used Files folder so I can upload files to the local BBS, and Downline keeps a single file of all the Binhex headers so I don't have to retype the file descriptions when I upload those files. The original Binhex files are a waste of space, though, so Downline throws them away for me. Downline works nicely in the background and optionally displays a small window with a progress bar so I can see how it is doing as I continue to read other mail.
Since I primarily want to defunk files, I have my default settings set for accomplishing that task. However, I could just as easily have Downline create StuffIt and Binhex files for me by changing the settings and putting the original files in the Input Folder. You can also create multiple settings files and launch Downline by double-clicking on the settings file, at which point Downline will use those settings. As it is though, I don't often want to create StuffIt and Binhex files other than TidBITS issues. Eric provided for my usage by making Downline System 7-savvy with drag-and-drop abilities. If you drag a normal file onto the Downline icon or an alias, Downline will run and pop up a dialog box asking what you want to do to the file, Stuff it, Binhex it, or both. If the file was originally Stuffed or Binhexed, Downline is bright enough to ask if you want unStuff or deBinhex instead. From now on, I'll be wrapping up TidBITS issues with Downline - it's simply the easiest option.
Downline isn't perfect, but Eric has shown that he's committed to working on it. The main enhancements I'd like to see are support of more compression formats including StuffIt Deluxe, DiskDoubler, and Compact Pro. The first two do provide hooks so that programmers can access the StuffIt Engine and the DiskDoubler algorithms, provided that the person actually has StuffIt Deluxe or DiskDoubler installed. Compact Pro isn't a completely closed format either, since Super Boomerang includes a Super Boomerang Extractor that allows it to look inside Compact Pro archives. There's also work going on to create a more efficient compression format (to replace StuffIt 1.5.1 format) that will exist completely in the public domain. I'd like to see Downline support that when it comes out too. Eric has promised to work on all this stuff and on multiple-part Binhex files, which Downline can't currently defunk correctly.
Now for the best part. Downline is free. However, Eric has a system which allows him to make some money from people who can afford to pay for the latest and greatest. If you want the latest version of Downline as soon as it finishes beta testing, Eric asks that you register for $25. If you're poor or don't feel that you use Downline enough to warrant paying for it, no problem, but you'll have to wait until the public release, which might be quite some time later. I like this method of marketing free software, since it allows the user to decide the worth of the software and its upgrades and provides incentive to register without compromising the idea of distributing free software. Eric also promises that the free versions of Downline will never have annoying shareware reminders or copy protection. In fact, you have to read the help in the About Downline... dialog to even figure out that you can register and where to send the money. Downline is available on AOL, CompuServe, sumex-aim.stanford.edu, and numerous other places. Check around, you won't regret it.
Eric Bloodworth -- firstname.lastname@example.org