Making Stuffit A Little Less Stuffy
December 16th, 1998
O.K. So you have all your shopping done, your decorations are up, your house is clean, all the planning and meals are ready and you have time to learn more about your Mac. No? Well in that case you may want to save this column until sanity returns to your house.
Several readers have written to me asking that I explain the reason why some files they download from the internet are "stuffed," or "Bin Hexed," or whatever. Since I found myself at somewhat of a loss to explain this, I turned to my friend Perry Young, who you may remember as my technical expert from an earlier column. Perry told me the following, it is long and slips into some semi-technical stuff, but don't worry about that. You can skip to the bottom of his explanation for a summary:
"When downloading or transporting a file, it is imperative that the file be as small as possible,. This goes back to the days when a 2400 baud modem was considered demonically fast and floppy disks added considerably to the cost of producing software. Some clever software engineers thought of a way to compress the data by using all kinds of fancy logarithms and formulas that consider the 1's and 0's that make up a software program in a way that computers normally don't. The result is that extra data is sort of thrown out as unneeded and wasted space and you have a compressed file. This might turn a 746k shareware game into a 542k stuffed file. In today's internet world, being able to lop over 30% of the file size off of a file makes the difference between a 10 minute download and a 7 minute download and this saves everyone time and money for everyone.
There are now 3 or 4 main types of compression, including bin-hqx, Stuffit, and self-extracting archives. This is on the Mac side. On the PC side, the most commonly used compression format is Zip. Recent versions of Stuffit Deluxe, Stuffit Expander, and other Stuffit products will uncompress them all."
In other words, to save time and bandwidth, most large files on the internet get compressed using Stuffit Deluxe. To use these files, you have to reverse the compression process by using either Stuffit Deluxe or Stuffit Expander (Stuffit Expander is free). So when you download things from the net to your machine you need to have some method of uncompressing that data so your computer can read it. First they are "stuffed" and then they are "unstuffed". If you want to download shareware or freeware such as the games I recommended last week, then you have to have some method of achieving this stuffing process.
I mentioned that I wanted to find someone to explain how to actually handle the stuffed files in English and Michael Baker and Steve Long came forward to help. They are the Vice President and President respectively of a company called The Tech of Hot Springs, located at 231 Fountain Street in Hot Springs, AR. They have a toll free number (1-88-814-TECH) and shortly will have a web site at www.thetechs.com. They operate a 24 hour computer business that repairs Macs 7 days a week. Based on their help to me, I expect their web site will be a great resource for help when it is operational.
The first thing is that Stuffit Expander is free. One source for getting it is at www.aladdinsys.com. Aladdin Systems is the manufacturer of the Stuffit family of products. Your unenlightened PC friends can get a version of Stuffit for their machines at this site as well. You can also go into www.search.com and find other links. Michael and Steve pointed out that at the Aladdin System site you can also get a shareware version of Stuffit, called Stuffit Lite as well as DropStuff which is also shareware. These programs will compress your own files for transport, thus making a faster file transfer. That in turn makes things run smooth.
That is a simple enough explanation, but if you haven't actually used it you still need to know the steps so here goes. (If you have Netscape 3.0 or better you already have Stuffit. It comes with it, so unless you have thrown it away or turned it off, you can skip these instructions, pass go and collect your $200.) When you open the Aladdin Systems site you can see an option for Stuffit Expander. Click on that and you will go to a page that offers the program for Windows, Mac and Dos. Click on the Mac icon and follow the directions. There is a paragraph of technical aspects of the program that tells all the other things it can do. My advice is to ignore it unless you are a techie. It won't mean anything to you anyway. Go to the boxes that ask for your name and e-mail address, hit go, and follow the directions. Stuffit will automatically load. Unless you have specified another download folder, the file will be downloaded to your desktop. After it finishes downloading, double click on the file and follow the installation instructions. When you install it, Stuffit will actually give your Mac instructions on how your Mac should use it! This means it will give your Mac a list of the types of files it will process.
If you download something from the net using Navigator, a box will pop up on your screen. It will inform you that the document is being downloaded and will use Stuffit to deal with it. A bar graphic moves as the document loads. This time varies based on the size of the document and the speed of your modem. If you have a 14.4 just go out to dinner and maybe it will finish before you get back. As soon as the download is complete, Navigator/Communicator will hand the stuffed file over to Stuffit will and tell you it is unstuffing. This is usually a fast process. Once the process is finished, you will usually see two or three new items on your desktop. These may be labeled filename.sit, filename.bin, filename.hqx, or filename.sea. There will also be a folder or file that looks like any other Mac file or folder. You can throw away all the funny ones and open up the normal one. That is your downloaded program and any supporting materials such as rules, registration, card files, etc. Each program will be set up differently so just click and follow directions. Save the folder anywhere you wish with whatever name you wish.
Sometimes you may get a stuffed file that does not come through your web browser. If this is the case, you should be able to double click on the file and Stuffit will take care of the rest. If this does not work, then launch your copy of Stuffit, go to the File menu and choose Open File (command-O). An open and save dialogue box will appear and you can navigate to your stuffed file and click "unstuff."
If you have any tips or hints on this topic, make sure you write me so that I can share your thoughts with other readers.