Review: Stuffit Deluxe

The shortcoming in Deluxe is what it trumpets as a major upgrade (February 20th, 2004)

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Product Manufacturer: Aladdin Systems

Price: $79.99 retail; $29.99 upgrade

The Good

  • Archive Via Rename enables one-step compression of files; extension renaming restores feature from OS 9; \"self-repairing archives\" provide added level of data recovery when shipping files

The Bad

  • Archive Assistant not a viable backup tool; limited configuration abilities, must be present during backup to swap CDs.

If you use a Mac, and you need to compress files, the chances are pretty good that you use one of Aladdin's Stuffit line of products. You can use the versions that have been available as shareware (DropStuff, DropZip, etc.), or the full-powered Stuffit Deluxe. Aladdin has done a magnificent job establishing Stuffit as the Mac standard for compression.

But if you're not a Mac user...and face it, the overwhelming majority of computer users aren't...Aladdin's .sit format isn't viable. (How many times have you asked one of our less-fortunate Wintel brethren to download Stuffit Expander for Windows, only to get a weird look in return?)

Fortunately, Aladdin knows that, and has taken strong steps in its latest version of Stuffit Deluxe (version 8.0.2) to ensure that Mac users can continue to easily compress files and share them with Windows users. The new version reflects that reality, as well as the reality that the primary purpose of file compression these days is to speed their delivery over the Internet, and not necessarily to save space on your hard drive.

At the same time, Aladdin has added several features to its new version. Most are extremely welcome; one, I think you'll find you can live without.

For openers, Stuffit Deluxe installs a Magic Menu on your Mac's menu bar, giving you a great range of options without having to open the application first. By clicking Click to enlarge on the file you want compressed, you immediately have the option to archive or compress it, even to automatically compress it and attach it to an outgoing email message. Shortcuts and timesavers like that are incredibly appreciated, and kudos to Aladdin for including it. (Make sure you're in Finder when you try to activate this feature, however; it sounds obvious, but I tried activating the Magic Menu's features when I was in another application, like Word. It doesn't work, and it was initially confusing.)

Its engineers have also restored a valuable feature that initially went missing in the transition from OS 9 to OS X. By changing the extension name on a compressed file, Stuffit Deluxe automatically changes the style of compression. For instance, if I take a folder and compress the data using Aladdin's proprietary .sit format, the resulting file will be named "Folder.sit." But if I highlight the name, and change the name to "Folder.zip," three things happen automatically: a new compressed file is established, the existing data is transferred, and the old compressed file is automatically deleted. Stuffit Deluxe also features what Aladdin calls "Archive Via Rename;" that is, by adding a ".sit" or ".sitx" to an existing file or folder name, you immediately create a compressed file.

And don't forget what Aladdin refers to as Stuffit's "self-repairing archives," designed to rebuild data that's lost or damaged when you send it over the Net.

Don't expect, however, the new version of Stuffit Deluxe to work its wonders on every single file. The old rules still apply; files with compressed images like .jpgs or .gifs will not compress much at all. I found that out the hard way, by experimenting with a client's PowerPoint presentation that includes images. The original .ppt file was 2.899MB. Stuffing it into a .sit format reduced it to 2.858MB; zipping it dropped it to 2.857MB. That's simply not worth the effort. However, stuffing a folder that contained an audio editing application compressed the data from 12.6MB to 3MB...a space savings of more than 75 per cent. Fantastic.

The only shortcoming in Stuffit Deluxe came in what Aladdin is trumpeting as a major upgrade. It's introduced what it calls its Archive Assistant, enabling you to burn compressed archives to a CD or DVD on a regular schedule. It certainly sounds good in theory, but it doesn't hold up in practice. For openers, Aladdin freely admits this feature is aimed at novices, and those people who know they should be backing up data but don't. So it's limiting your choices; you only have the option to back up overall destinations such as your entire desktop, your entire Documents folder, or your entire Pictures or Movies folder. Great...but what if I want to backup only documents from my clients, or only my Entourage database, both of which are in subfolders in my Documents folder? One word, 13 letters: fuggedaboutit. With this version, it's all or nothing; Aladdin says it's looking at improving this capability in its next major release.

And then, actually burning the CDs requires you to sit with the machine, swapping out multiple CDs depending on the size of the archive. I archived about 2.6GB of documents, which translated into four CDs; the entire process took more than an hour. I could be wrong, but novices aren't going to sit still for that. Neither will I; I routinely (and automatically) backup my documents to an external hard drive; those documents I need when traveling will be compressed individually and manually burned to a CD or DVD, which takes far less time. Business and power users already know about other, better alternatives than Archive Assistant.

Bottom line: if you're not using Stuffit Deluxe, use it. It allows you to compress files in virtually any format, and allows you to send many files in far less time. Don't expect it to do everything it advertises in a wonderful way though; Archive Assistant is a great stab at integration, but it doesn't fit the bill. However, there's a reason for Stuffit being the Mac standard and the latest version of Stuffit Deluxe just enhances that position.

by Steve Friedberg


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