Allume Systems, now owned by Smith Micro, Inc., has released the latest version of their venerable compression and archiving utility, StuffIt Deluxe. Improvements in StuffIt Deluxe 10 fall largely into two categories: low-level improvements in its compression engine and support for new technologies in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger.
StuffIt Deluxe 10 costs $80, with upgrades from previous versions of either StuffIt Deluxe or StuffIt Standard Edition priced at $30. It requires Mac OS 10.3 or later.
Under the Hood -- Most notable of the low-level improvements is StuffIt Deluxe 10's new capability to compress JPEG photos by an additional 30 percent. As you likely know, JPEG files are compressed using a lossy compression approach that throws away data that's not essential to the image. In contrast, compression software like StuffIt Deluxe or Mac OS X's built-in Zip archiving tool uses only lossless approaches from which an original file can be expanded perfectly. Generally, compression software doesn't even try to work on already-compressed files like JPEG images because there's little, if any, size reduction to be achieved. That's why the fact that StuffIt Deluxe can further reduce the size of JPEG images by up to 30 percent is so astonishing (I saw compression amounts ranging from 24 percent to 31 percent in my tests). Keep in mind that this 30 percent extra compression is lossless, which means that the images are not further degraded in any way, but they also aren't available for use until you expand them.
StuffIt Deluxe 10 also stores a preview thumbnail for such images now, making it possible to browse the images in an archive without expanding it first. The preview is available only in one of the panes of the Get Info window, though, so it's clumsy to scan through numerous compressed images in an archive. Ideally, a future version of StuffIt Deluxe would offer an icon view with the thumbnails as icons, or even a way of hooking into Tiger's slideshow capabilities.
The final low-level improvement is faster performance when using the StuffIt X archive format. Allume claims that the "Better" compression method (as opposed to "Faster") can now perform the same compression about 20 percent faster than in previous incarnations.
And into the Tiger Cage -- The three marquee features of Tiger are, of course, Spotlight, Automator, and Dashboard. StuffIt Deluxe 10 adds support for the first two, and when I chatted with Jon Kahn of Allume about the release, he said they really tried to come up with some sort of a Dashboard widget that would be helpful, but they just couldn't think of one that was more than a gratuitous nod to the technology.
Most notably, StuffIt Deluxe 10 now features a Spotlight Importer, which enables Spotlight to index the file names of items inside StuffIt, Zip, and Tar archives. It worked perfectly in my testing - immediately after creating an archive Spotlight could find files inside it based on name. StuffIt's Spotlight Importer does not enable Spotlight to search the full text or other metadata of archived files; perhaps we'll see that in a future version of StuffIt Deluxe.
For Automator, Allume created four actions that enable Automator workflows to create StuffIt, Zip, and Tar archives, and to expand archives of any sort. I'm already contemplating how I might be able to use these actions to help automate the process of creating and uploading new Take Control ebooks, since there are a fair number of steps in the process. I may also look into StuffIt Express PE, which ships with StuffIt Deluxe and enables users to create drop box applications that can also automate a whole slew of file compression and transfer tasks. The version of StuffIt Express PE that ships with StuffIt Deluxe 10 adds support for direct uploading to and downloading from .Mac iDisks.
While we're on the subject of automating tasks, StuffIt Deluxe 10 also includes a new utility called StuffIt SEA Maker for creating self-extracting archives (applications that, when double-clicked, expand the archive inside them) that border on mini-installers. StuffIt SEA Maker actually creates Mac OS X packages that contain the expansion code, the archive to be expanded, and any splash-screen graphics or text files you want to display during the expansion process. You can allow the recipient to choose a location for the expanded files or you can specify a particular location while creating the archive. And, if you plan to be posting the self-extracting archive on the Internet, StuffIt SEA Maker can optionally put it on a disk image so code that protects users from downloading applications doesn't trip over the self-extracting archive application.
StuffIt Standard and StuffIt Expander-- As always, for people who don't need all of StuffIt Deluxe's power, Allume makes two other packages available. StuffIt Standard Edition 10 costs $50 ($15 for upgrades from previous versions, and the demo download is 9.3 MB) and includes DropStuff for creating a wide variety of archives (complete with the low-level improvements in StuffIt Deluxe 10) and StuffIt Expander for expanding them. StuffIt Expander 10 remains free, and it's worth noting that Apple no longer bundles StuffIt Expander with new Macs or copies of Mac OS X, so downloading a new version manually may become more important than it was in the past.