Usenet may be one of the greatest information resources of all time, but it does have its problems (the price for an anarchy that really works). The latest massive argument in the Macintosh groups has brought out some interesting issues, however, instead of just the usual personal invective. The issue is the format in which the public domain and shareware software is stored at the public archive sites. In the old days of about a month ago, there was only one format that made any sense at all, the one used by StuffIt 1.5.1 from Raymond Lau. StuffIt 1.5.1 had been stable and available for several years, which made it a prime target for ambitious young compression freaks. Now there are several useful programs which can compress files around 50%, most notably Disk Doubler from Salient, Compactor (from Bill Goodman), the shareware Diamond, and of course StuffIt Deluxe from Aladdin Systems.
The StuffIt format isn't as compact as the newer ones, so many, including the Macintosh BBS that TidBITS goes to directly in Ithaca, Memory Alpha, have switched to another program, commonly StuffIt Deluxe. However, since StuffIt Deluxe is a commercial product, many were concerned that they would be forced into purchasing it. Luckily Aladdin does include the free UnStuffIt Deluxe and is releasing StuffIt 1.6, which continues as shareware and reads and writes the StuffIt Deluxe format, though it will presumably lack many of StuffIt Deluxe's advanced features. So in reality a change to StuffIt Deluxe format is not unreasonable. The principle of the matter is another story, because the StuffIt Deluxe format is proprietary, so the other compression programs will be unable to expand StuffIt Deluxe archives, whereas they can now expand the StuffIt 1.5.1 archives. Obviously, Aladdin has the right to keep its formats proprietary, but some feel that proprietary formats should not be used for storing public information.
Our feeling is that either Aladdin should open the StuffIt Deluxe format to the public (and not just to qualified developers) or that the archives should remain in StuffIt 1.5.1 format. As much as the new shareware version of StuffIt will do the job, all of the other compression programs are basically as good, and all include free expansion programs as well. If nothing else, all public archive should use the same format because it is difficult for new users to deal with the fact that the neat new program they just downloaded is compressed in X format, but they only have Y expansion program and where do you get X program anyway and this is confusing and maybe it's not worth the effort anyway because it's such a hassle. Believe me, I went through that once with various compression and archiving programs on mainframes and it is confusing. Let's just stick with one compression format, it doesn't matter which one particularly, and make that one available to the public for anyone to use. Then StuffIt Deluxe, Disk Doubler, and Compactor can all compete on speed and extra features like automatic compression and expansion, which really make the difference these days.
Salient Software -- 800/326-0092 -- 415/852-9567
Aladdin Systems -- 408/685-9175
Nicolas Berloquin -- nicolas@cnam.UUCP
Leonard Rosenthol -- email@example.com
Jim Matthews -- Jim.Matthews@dartmouth.edu
David Walton -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Marty Connor -- email@example.com
Ken Hancock -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Dane Spearing -- dane@pangea.Stanford.EDU
Adam C. Engst -- TidBITS Editor