Product Reviews

StuffIt Comes to Windows

Aladdin Systems StuffIt offers an alternative to WinZip, but is it better?

The history of file compression programs is a long one. Back in the DOS days, the de facto standard was ARC, from System Enhancement Associates. Then Phil Katz wrote a faster version of ARC called PKARC, and got sued by SEA over intellectual property issues. In response, Katz developed the ZIP format and made the format public domain, leading ultimately to the current market leader on Windows computers, WinZip.

Meanwhile, over on the Macintosh platform, Aladdin Systems' StuffIt became the compression utility of choice. Now, Aladdin has released StuffIt for Windows, bringing their compression code to the Microsoft platform. Its web site makes a number of claims for StuffIt, notably that its files are "an average of 20 percent smaller files than Zip." They also claim an easy to use interface and the most comprehensive set of compression formats in the industry.

To check their claims of file size advantage, I used StuffIt and WinZip (the most popular engine for the ZIP format on Windows) to compress a variety of files. The table shows my results.

Test
Original Size
StuffIt Size
WinZip Size
Excel spreadsheet
16 KB
2643 bytes
2636 bytes
Access database
360 KB
57 KB
83 KB
Word document
24 KB
169 KB
161 KB
Mix of 14 documents
1670 KB
607 KB
620 KB
Mix of 65 executables
24.5 MB
11.1 MB
10.0 MB

So, in my tests, the "20 percent better" claim just doesn't hold up. In only one case did StuffIt achieve 20 percent better compression than WinZip, and in some cases it did substantially worse. I couldn't find any details on Aladdin's web site as to how the company calculated its "average" claim.

As far as user interface goes, I think it's a wash. StuffIt does offer a lot of flexibility, from a full Explorer-style interface through drag-and-drop compression and expansion to context menu extensions. But WinZip offers drag-and-drop and context menus, and there are other zip utilities for Windows implemented in Explorer fashion. One thing missing from StuffIt is a step-by-step "Wizard" interface, though I'm skeptical that most users advanced enough to want file compression would use such an interface.

StuffIt does come through on support for multiple types of compression. While the current release of WinZip offers support for zip, tar, gz, UUencode, BinHex, MIME, LZExpand, and cab files. StuffIt covers all of these formats, and adds support for sit, lha, hqx, arj, and more. Particularly if you need to share files with Mac users from your Windows system, you'll find this extended support valuable.

StuffIt for Windows offers a choice between Explorer-style and drag-and-drop interfaces. (Click image to view larger version.)

I doubt that StuffIt (or any other program) can do much to whittle down the hold the zip file format has on Windows. The StuffIt application does offer useful flexibility for those working with heterogeneous clients, but you definitely need to take Aladdin's marketing claims with a grain of salt.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, is a former MCP columnist and the author of numerous development books.

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