File Compression Utilities

by Joe Gillespie — Feb 1, 2000

Each computer platform has its own utilities for files compression that can shrink the sizes of files for faster transmission over the internet. On Windows, there is the ubiquitous .ZIP format which has been around since the early days of MS-DOS. For MacUsers, Stuffit DeLuxe has the throne.

Since we all use these tools on an everyday basis, either intentionally, or in the background, and sometimes need to use both, I thought that it might be a good idea to see how the two systems square-up against one another.

WinZIP 7.0

Although there are other 'front ends' for the original command-line ZIP program, WinZIP is the most popular. Having used, or should I say fought, with the command-line ZIP program in the past, when WinZIP came along, it was a godsend.

The ZIP format itself, does a creditable job of file shrinking. It has different levels of compression depending on how long you are prepared to wait. Some files can be reduced to a tiny percentage of their original sizes. EXE files, and most 'office' kinds of files will reduce by a significant amount but trying to ZIP Web files can be less rewarding. ZIPping GIF and JPEG files can actually make them bigger than the originals because they are already optimally compressed.

I must say that the process of saving a file before creating it is one of those very strange and confusing things that people seem to take for granted because they have to, but it is quite contrary to the way every other computer program works where the work is done first, and then saved.

Getting over that hurdle, I've still seen the operation of WinZIP bringing the most experienced computer users to tears when they find that the directory full of Web files that they have ZIPped-up has arrived at the other end flattened into one directory level because they didn't tell the program to maintain the directory hierarchy. Why they should have to tell it beats me.

The fact that the makers, Nico Mak Computing, deem it necessary to provide a 'wizard' to take you through the steps of compressing a file shows that the process is not an easy as it should be. The plethora of 'options' and 'settings' seem to be there to improve value perception rather than to provide any real benefits and with each succesive version, they have to try harder and harder to come up with some 'new features' and they become increasingly pointless.

The current version of WinZIP is 7.0 handles a few other file formats (at last) and there is a beta of Version 8 available at http://www.winzip.com/betawz.htm.

Even though its price is very low, ($29), I can't help feeling that the whole thing is rather tired and lacklustre and needs its whole concept reworked rather than just the inclusion of more add-ons.

WinZIP 7.0
Features Red 75%
Ease of Use Yellow 75%
Value for Money Green 95%
'Must Have' factor Blue 95%
Manufacturer Nico Mak Computing
Price $29 Single user licence, site licences available.
Summary Industry standard, but needs simplified.

Stuffit DeLuxe 5.5

Stuffit DeLuxe, from Aladdin Systems as been around for nearly as long as the Mac. A couple of years ago, I had occasion to ZIP and Stuff the same files to put on a Web site and was amazed that the ZIPped versions were considerably smaller than the Stuffed ones. I wrote to Aladdin about this and never got a reply but the new Stuffit DeLuxe 5.5 claims to have tighter compression than ZIP - let's see.

I've just compressed a folder of 128 Web files (191k uncompressed), a typical mixture of HTML and graphics files using WinZIP 7.0 on its slowest, tightest compression and Stuffit DeLuxe 5.5 using straight .SIT, .BIN and .HQX settings with the following results.

WinZIP on best compression 184k
Stuffit DeLuxe .SIT file 159k
Stuffit DeLuxe .BIN file 160k
Stuffit DeLuxe .HQX file 214K

These are not very good results in terms of compression, but then the graphics files were already compressed, as I've mentioned before. Only the relatively small (in filesize terms) HTML files really benefited from the process. The packaging together into one single file for transmission still makes it worthwhile.

If you don't understand what a .HQX file is, or why it is bigger, it is a file format that converts 8-bit data into 7-bit data for online transmission over older systems and is all but obsolete today.

So, Stuffit 5.5 acquits itself quite well on the compression front. In usability terms, it's light years ahead of WinZIP, and most other utilities. To compress a file or folderful of files, you simply rename it <filename>.sit on the desktop - That's it. To decompress it, you delete the .sit extension and you have the original files. That even beats the previously simplistic drag and drop process.

Aladdin also produce DropStuff and Stuffit Expander for Mac and PC which are cheaper (or even free) compression and expansion utilities without all the frills of Stuffit DeLuxe.

At $79.95, Stuffit DeLuxe is considerably more expensive than WinZIP. But given its superior compression, ease of use and the fact that it handles just about every Mac, PC and UNIX compression scheme you are likely to encounter (including .ZIP), I still consider it to be excellent value for money.

Stuffit DeLuxe 5.5
Features Red 95%
Ease of Use Yellow 95%
Value for Money Green 90%
'Must Have' factor Blue 95%
Manufacturer Aladdin Systems
Price $79 Mac (Upgrades $19.95) Site licences available.
Summary Excellent compression, couldn't be easier to use.
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