Perhaps you’ve never been tight on disk space; and perhaps you’ve always lived in some remote hermitage with no desire to share files with others. But I doubt it. If I’m right, and if you’ve been a Mac user for any length of time, then of all the good old workhorse utilities you depend on without even thinking, surely Aladdin’s StuffIt is the one you take the most for granted. Archive a file or a folder and presto, it takes up less space on your hard disk and less bandwidth when transmitting it over the Internet. That’s why when Mac OS X came out in March of 2001, I was glad to see a Mac OS X-compatible version of StuffIt Expander included in the Utilities folder. There was just one problem: It didn’t work.
I exaggerate, of course. It worked pretty well most of the time. But every now and then I’d download an application, expand it with StuffIt Expander, and find the result unusable. Often I’d check back on the Web site to find a second version, compressed in some other way – as a gzipped disk image to be opened and mounted with Disk Copy, for example – because users had found that the StuffIt-compressed version wouldn’t work for them.
Like so many other early Mac OS X programs, StuffIt at this time had various shortcomings, but the most glaringly obvious was its inability to deal with long filenames. The restriction on how long the name of a file could be had been lifted from 31 to 255 characters when HFS+ arrived over 4 years ago, and high-level programming APIs to deal with long filenames were provided starting with Mac OS 9. But most users didn’t actually encounter long filenames until Mac OS X, where such names could at last be assigned in the Finder and when saving – in appropriately written programs, that is. Some programs, such as Microsoft Office, couldn’t (and still can’t) deal with long filenames even under Mac OS X.
In the case of StuffIt, the problem was particularly serious, because it turned an archive into a kind of roach motel: long filenames could go in but they couldn’t come out. Expanding an archive containing long filenames would change those names into something shorter. That might be annoying by itself, but keep in mind that Mac OS X is full of filenames you can’t normally even see. Even if an application’s name is short, an application file in Mac OS X is often actually a package (essentially a special folder), and one of the many files inside it might have a long filename. If that name gets munged, the application likely won’t work.
In September 2001, Aladdin released StuffIt 6.5, still without support for long filenames. Now, a year later, the problem is at last solved. Aladdin has released StuffIt Deluxe 7.0, boasting a new file format, StuffIt X, which handles long filenames. Various other improvements in the new format include stronger encryption, the capability to include huge amounts of data in an archive, optional redundancy to prevent data loss, and claims of tighter compression.
StuffIt X — In the past, a new StuffIt file format has not been cause for rejoicing. Readers will doubtless call to mind the StuffIt 5 debacle of early 1999, when a new format that lacked backwards compatibility caused no end of trouble until everyone had finally upgraded. Public faith in Aladdin was seriously undermined, and Aladdin knew it. With this release, though, Aladdin has taken steps to redeem itself through what seems to me a sensible approach. The new format isn’t compatible with the old, and doesn’t try to be, but you can easily tell the formats apart: archives in the new format are distinguished by the ".sitx" suffix. Meanwhile, StuffIt can still unstuff and (more important) archive to the old ".sit" format, resulting in complete and readily accessible backwards compatibility. If you don’t want to use the new format, you don’t have to. Of course, if your archive involves long filenames, you do have to. Although current and past versions of StuffIt Expander cannot expand StuffIt X archives, the free StuffIt Expander 7 can, and it’s available now.
As with StuffIt Deluxe 6.5, StuffIt 7’s Finder integration is provided through the Finder contextual menu and the Magic Menu menu icon. My menubar is too full as it is, so I don’t even install Magic Menu, but I am tremendously fond of the contextual menu, since it puts StuffIt’s functionality just a Control-click (or right-click) away. The contextual menu is thus the main way I stuff and expand things; I almost never fire up the actual StuffIt Deluxe application.
Unfortunately, though, the items of this contextual menu don’t provide a choice between archiving to the new or old format; you must remember to set a preference first. The included DropStuff droplet has the same problem; instead of providing two droplets, one to stuff as .sit and one to stuff as .sitx, Aladdin still gives you just one, and you must set its preferences appropriately before dropping anything on it. I find these interface decisions of Aladdin’s extremely annoying. The most convenient solution to such difficulties is probably to take advantage of the included StuffIt Express PE application, which lets you make your own droplets, onto which files and folders can later be dropped for archiving to a particular format (StuffIt Express can do much more; if you need to perform the same set of file manipulation tasks on a group of files, it’s worth a look). Ironically, you can’t save a StuffIt Express drop box with a long filename.
Other features in StuffIt Deluxe 7 include a Drag and Drop window for compressing files, integration with Microsoft Word so you can compress and mail documents from Word 2001 and Word X, full support for Zip archives, support for Microsoft Entourage and Apple’s Mail with the Stuff and Mail component, command-line tools for stuffing and unstuffing files, and an ArchiveSearch application for searching within StuffIt and Zip archives.
StuffIt Deluxe 7 costs $80, or $30 to upgrade. Also available is the $50 StuffIt Standard Edition (previously known as StuffIt Lite), which includes DropStuff, DropZip, DropTar, and StuffIt Expander.