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I Hate StuffIt Expander

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

[Update: New direct download link for Expander 2010]

Over the years, I have come to hate StuffIt Expander. But not because StuffIt Expander is bad software.

Back in the System 7 days, it was the only way to fly. Aladdin Systems made great compression & decompression utilities for the Macintosh. StuffIt Deluxe was a must-have tool for any Macintosh power user.

Because of the bizarre dual-fork file architecture employed by Apple where a resource fork carried icons, pictures, sounds, fonts, and other data used by an application or a file and a data fork carried the binary executable code or other binary data used by a file, simple compression utilities like zip programs were insufficient for fully capturing all the information contained in a Mac file. Many novice Mac users would learn the hard way that zipping up an application for use later would only result in terminal corruption of the file. The StuffIt suite of tools for Mac cleanly solved this problem by transparently archiving both the resource and data forks in the same StuffIt archive.

StuffIt Expander and DropStuff encoder were included with OS 9The software was easy to use. Just drag and drop the files or folders you wanted to archive onto the DropStuff icon to create an archive. Double click on an archive or drag it to Expander to decompress it. And it was as simple to obtain as it was to use. StuffIt Expander was blessed by Apple and included in all operating system releases as their tool of choice for compressing and decompressing files. If you wanted an updated version, you could visit the Aladdin page on the internet and download a new version.

But something happened when Apple transitioned to Mac OS X.

Files used in Mac OS X no longer required resource forks. Applications use special directory structures that through the magic of OS X appear as a single executable file to the end user. The need for a utility to compress resource forks and data forks into the same archive is no longer present. And at the same time, Apple introduced a new zip feature to the Finder in Mac OS X “Panther” v10.3 along the way that does, in fact, include resource forks in zip archives.Zip archives can be created natively in OS X since 10.3 Panther

In April of 2004, Aladdin Systems became a wholly owned subsidiary of International Microcomputer Software (IMSI), Inc. In July of that same year, Aladdin Systems was forced to change it’s name to Allume Systems as a condition of a trademark suit settlement with Aladdin Knowledge Systems. Not much changed, really. StuffIt was still StuffIt, and the website which now read “Allume” instead of “Aladdin” was otherwise familiar. And then in July of 2005, Allume Systems was sold to Smith Micro Software, Inc.

This time, Allume Systems branding all but disappeared. By the winter of 2008, the website became branded with Smith Micro logos and a variety of tools which have nothing in common with the StuffIt heritage. Anime and PC compatibility applications appear along side the familiar StuffIt suite.

Finally, when Apple released Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger”, the company stopped including StuffIt Expander with the operating system. Now, if you wanted to expand those old .sit files hanging around your hard drive from OS 9 days or that you still sometimes stumble across on the Internet, you have to download a copy of StuffIt Expander from Smith Micro’s website.

Starting sometime back in the latter OS 8 days or early OS 9 days, Aladdin Systems started making it difficult to obtain a copy of the free StuffIt Expander without revealing your name and email address. This was annoying, but there was almost no need to download anything from their website because Apple included a reasonably up-to-date copy of StuffIt Expander and the DropStuff encoder & archiver with the Mac OS. But since Apple stopped including StuffIt Expander with Mac OS X in Tiger, it has become necessary to download the software from Smith Micro every now and then.

And that is why I hate StuffIt Expander. It is not possible to obtain a copy through their website’s interface without providing Smith Micro with your personal email address. They email you the download link instead of making the link available on a confirmation page once you provide a (bogus) email address. And to make matters worse, by providing your real email address, you are agreeing to be spammed periodically with marketing email from Smith Micro! Sure, you can opt out of these emails once you download StuffIt Expander, but this sort of coercion is hostile and off-putting. For a software product with very limited utility and who’s days are numbered, it is incomprehensible to me that a company would require you to jump through this hoop to get access to their “gateway” free application (the rest of the StuffIt line is not free). Even worse, this information is not prominently displayed on the form but is instead listed in fineprint at the bottom of the StuffIt Expander page:

Please note: By confirming your email address and downloading this file, you are signing up to receive periodic followup emails from us. Any emails we send you will contain unsubscribe information, and you may opt-out of future emails at any time.

As a member of our email lists, you will not only be informed of every new product release, and upgrade, but you’ll be eligible for THE biggest savings on those releases, up to 75% off on some titles. These prices are not available on our web site or in retail stores. You will also receive amazing discounts on software from our many partners, like Nuance, Symantec, TrendMicro, Sonic, and Intuit to name a few.

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So join me in telling Smith Micro to stuff it. Download expander using this direct download link:

Update: You can obtain StuffIt Standard (which includes DropStuff) here: http://my.smithmicro.com/downloads/files/StuffItStandard2009.dmg


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