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TUAW Review: StuffIt Deluxe 2010

Steve Sande
Steve Sande|@stevensande|October 3, 2009 1:30 PM
If there's one Mac application that has seemingly been around forever, it's StuffIt. This compression and archiving utility was the tool to use for compressing files years ago, and I'll still occasionally run into a .sit file extension when pulling up old files. The original application was the source of a bit of Mac folklore, as it was developed and supported for quite a while by a young student by the name of Raymond Lau.

Mac OS X did its best to kill off StuffIt by adding built-in support for Zip compression, but the utility has continued to flourish over the years. During the last week, Smith Micro released the newest version of the application, StuffIt Deluxe 2010 (US$79.95, with an introductory price of US$29.95 through October 15, 2009).

Since compression has been part of Mac OS X for quite a while, you might think that this application would have limited usefulness. Smith Micro is spinning StuffIt Deluxe 2010 as a better way to share large files over the Internet. How does it work? Read on, my friends...
The new features in the application are useful, but in many cases simply parrot functionality that's available for free in other applications and services. For example, Smith Micro touts that you can "Use StuffIt SmartSend to automatically redirect large files to StuffIt Connect, an FTP location or MobileMe." If I want to send someone a large file, I will compress it using the built-in Mac OS X command and throw it into either my public Dropbox folder or MobileMe public folder. Yes, I do have to zap off a short email to the recipient to tell 'em where to go, but I usually have other things to tell them anyway, so I don't mind spending a few seconds jotting a note.

Another set of new features: "Create Disk Images or self-extracting archives." Hmmm...I can go into Disk Utility, part of the Mac OS X standard utility set, and create a .dmg file very easily. No, I can't create a .sea self-extracting archive file, but who cares -- the Mac can open my disk images with a double-click, and any .zip file is going to expand automatically on any Mac OS X machine.

One feature that is unique is the integration into Aperture, iPhoto, and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Since exporting photos from any of these apps can create huge files, it's nice to know that you can crunch 'em before sending them to a folder or mailing them off to a friend or client. Of course, if your images are in JPEG instead of RAW or TIFF formats, they're already compressed.

Part of the high price of StuffIt Deluxe 2010 is a US$49.99 annual subscription (first year is included) to StuffIt Connect. This is a "box in the cloud" where you can store up to 2 GB of files for sharing with others. StuffIt SmartSend -- someone at Smith Micro must have spent months coming up with these names -- will not only compress a file and send it to StuffIt Connect, MobileMe, or an FTP server, but send a message with an embedded link to the recipient(s). StuffIt now includes MacFUSE and Growl support as well.

So, why should I pay US$50 for 2 GB of online storage when I get 20 GB with a MobileMe account that I can purchase on Amazon.com for US$74 (including an email address, syncing, and more)? My free DropBox account gives me 2 GB of storage to use, and there are other bargain & pro options. What's worse is that StuffIt Connect has a monthly bandwidth limit of 4 GB. If I go over that amount in any particular month, I'm cut off from the service until the first day of the next month. When I'm working on a book, sending and receiving the multiple edited versions could easily throw me over that amount when I add some of my other work in. At least if you don't need StuffIt Connect, you can always just purchase the regular StuffIt 2010, which is still overpriced at US$49.99 (US$19.99 for upgrades from earlier versions).

As you can probably surmise, StuffIt Deluxe 2010 started off on the wrong foot with me. First, the installer crashed during the initial installation with no error message in sight, leaving me to try to figure out what had happened. The second attempt was successful, but required that I log out of my current Mac session and log back in. That took an unusually long amount of time, and when I was finally able to use my machine again, iStat Menu showed that my dual-core CPU was pegged at 100%. While DropBox appeared to be the culprit and a reboot resolved the problem, I can't help but think that the new addition of StuffIt Deluxe contributed to the issue.

Another thing that irritated me during the installation and setup was that I had to enter my registration code three times -- once when installing the app, a second time for another purpose that I don't recall, and a third time when I was signing up for StuffIt Connect. Why couldn't I just enter my registration code once and be done with it? Well, that seems to be because this is not just a single application, but a set of seven applications that are sitting in the StuffIt folder. To be honest with you, I think there are more StuffIt applications hidden around my Mac, since signing up for Stuffit Connect appeared to launch one more application that wasn't in the StuffIt folder.

Once I had resolved whatever conflict was causing my CPU to max out, things seemed to run a little bit smoother. There's a MagicMenu located up in the menu bar, featuring the classic StuffIt vise icon. Clicking on it lets you launch StuffIt Expander, DropStuff, StuffIt Archive Manager, or SEA Maker. Once again, why there are all of these little applications instead of one application that can do it all is a mystery to me.

StuffIt Expander brings up a tiny window onto which you can drag and drop compressed files. By default, the application un-compresses the files into the same location that where the compressed file resides. DropStuff is similar, except it compresses files into .sitx, .zip, or .tgz archives. Opening the Profiles window in DropStuff lets you choose different preferences and create a Droplet. Droplets can reside anywhere on your Mac, and perform compression functions on files or folders when you drop their icons onto the Droplet. When you use a Droplet, you can watch the DropStuff application open up and close, meaning that the process of creating the compressed file takes longer. I created a Droplet to make a zip file, and it consistently took about twice the time to compress a file than it did to just right-click the file icon and select "Compress." Of course, I can only create zip files with OS X's Compress functionality, but I can always create .tgz archives from Terminal if I need to.

The Droplet functionality is also easy to replicate in Mac OS X. Opening Automator, choosing the Application template, dragging the Create Archive action over to the workflow, and then saving the application to my desktop created a much faster "Droplet" than the one provided by DropStuff.

In my opinion, StuffIt Archive Manager is probably the most useful part of StuffIt Deluxe 2010. With it, you can search for archives or files types, and perform functions such as setting up regularly scheduled archives of certain file types. The last of the four applications available from the MagicMenu, SEA Maker, seems to be the least useful part. As I asked before, why should I create a self-extracting archive with SEA Maker when any person with a Mac running OS X can automatically compress and decompress .zip files?

Despite my better judgement, I decided to try out the StuffIt Connect capability. This is supposed to "magically" appear when you try to email a large file, so I found a PDF file that met the criteria -- it was over 5 MB in size -- and decided to mail it to myself. After all, the marketing blurb says "StuffIt will automatically check your email file size and upload files that are too big to the StuffIt Connect server where they can be downloaded directly."

Hmmm... Instead of doing what I expected, Mail sent the full, uncompressed 12.4 MB file. Nowhere did StuffIt Connect appear to "automatically check my email file size" or "upload files that are too big." Obviously, I misunderstood the marketing hype. Looking at the Help File showed that it doesn't automatically check my email file size. Nope, I have to select the files that I want to add to an archive and send by email, and then choose Stuff and Mail from the MagicMenu. Y'know, despite the fact that I've written Mac help files for developers, I still don't like to RTFM -- a well-designed Mac app shouldn't force users to depend on reading the manual.

OK, time to try again. This time I followed the instructions. A small window appeared showing me the compression taking place and the upload to StuffIt Connect. The PDF file was compressed from 12.4 to 12.2 MB, not exactly saving a tremendous amount of space (even the standard Mac OS X .zip file was smaller at 12.1 MB). I then waited for the email message with the link to appear. When it didn't, I searched around and finally found a dialog that told me that my email account wasn't active. I looked in my mail inbox, only to find that I needed to activate the StuffIt Connect account by clicking a link.

By this point, I could have used Dropbox or MobileMe ten times over, but being the hard-working reviewer that I am, I decided to slog on. The third time had to be the charm, and so I once again selected the PDF file, selected Stuff and Mail, and waited. I kept expecting Mail to open up with a nicely written email containing a link, but it didn't. Finally, the fourth time I was greeted with a window in my web browser that allowed me to share the stuffed file (in .sitx format, by the way) with someone at another email address. Aha! I finally figured out what was going on, and the email was finally sent.

Shortly thereafter, an email appeared in my Inbox with a link to the file. On the page, I noted that there was a line that said "The file(s) may be contained in a compressed archive. To expand them, download your free StuffIt Expander here:" Yes, if I had sent this to someone who didn't have StuffIt Expander on their Mac, they'd have to download it (at least it's free). Major fail, in my opinion. I could have zipped the file in Mac OS X, dropped it in my DropBox or MobileMe iDisk public folder, and sent an email to the recipient telling them where to pick it up, all in less time than I wasted here.

By the way, throughout the application and the marketing hype, there's a continued reference to "Contextual Menus." Of course, none of them worked. I found out that it's apparently due to Smith Micro's inexperience with the way that Snow Leopard handles contextual menus and services, and that it will appear in "a future release." As a result of this issue, I can't just right-click or control-click a file or folder and "StuffIt and Send," where I can use the Mac OS X contextual menus to compress a file to a .zip archive with a single click.

I complained about the number of StuffIt-related applications earlier -- but one that I was glad to see was the StuffIt Deluxe Uninstaller. I was more than happy to remove this application from my MacBook Air. Maybe I "just don't get it" and I'm sure I'll get comments from StuffIt fans about how wrong I am, but I am never going to use this application again. In my opinion, this program has outlived its usefulness, it's overpriced, and it duplicates functionality that can be found elsewhere at less expense. I look forward to the reader comments on this review, pro or con. Be sure to check out the gallery for screenshots.