Take This .sit and Stuff It

Dear Mac Developers:

I know very well that software developers are creatures of habit. Given a tool that does roughly 80% of the job we need to do (such as Emacs, or the X Windowing System), we are inclined to grab on to it with both hands and refuse to let go until we are forced to.

Today I would like to try to force Mac developers to stop using Stuffit. Stuffit is evil, and must be destroyed.

First and foremost, Stuffit is an application that, under OS X, serves absolutely no useful purpose. Every single thing that Stuffit does is done better by services that are built in to the operating system. If you are distributing your software in .sit form, then every Mac user in the world has to do extra work in order to use your software. More to the point, you are doing unnecessary extra work to ship your software (and paying money that would be better spent on pizza and coke, to boot.)

It’s so silly, so wasteful, so wrong. Even if you feel that creating a compressed disk image with Disk Utility is too much work, you can make a distributable archive that’s more compatible, easier to use, and faster to both pack and unpack. Go to the Finder. Choose a folder. Control-click on it and choose “Make an archive of this folder.” Congratulations, you now have a zip file that can be distributed to your users (and, since Stuffit will uncompress zip files, you’re not even leaving your three or four OS 9 users out in the cold.)

Amount of extra money you had to spend to package and compress your software: $0.

Amount of extra money your users had to spend to uncompress your software: $0.

Number of additional programs your users have to download or purchase to uncompress your software: none.

Relying on Stuffit is even more foolish now that OS X 10.4 “Tiger” is out, because Stuffit Expander doesn’t ship with the OS anymore. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t particularly bother me; as mentioned above, OS X supports the saner (and less encumbered) .zip and .dmg formats natively. Even after an archive install, Stuffit doesn’t work out of the box – you have to reinstall. When I realized this, just for fun, I consciously decided to not install Stuffit at all to try to simulate the new user experience (after all, if my Grandma bought a new Mac, she’d have no idea that Stuffit even existed, right?) And what I’ve noticed is that there are a surprising number of applications that are distributed in .sit form (or even worse, BinHex) for no good reason whatsoever.

It’s just force of habit.

So unless you’re targeting your application for Mac OS 9 (in which case I hate you), using Stuffit costs you money (because you have to buy the packaging app), prevents some percentage of users from using your app at all (because they will never buy or install Stuffit), and makes those who do have Stuffit installed go through a little bit of pain (because they have to sit there while a comparatively super-slow Stuffit process forks and does its thing).

Furthermore, each successive edition of Stuffit has become more and more facehuggerware. If you go to Allume’s web site and try to download the “free” edition of Stuffit, you’ll end up downloading the time-limited demo of their full product, which nobody in the entire world actually wants. Basically, Allume deserves some sort of Annoyance Award for managing to craft an app distribution mechanism that is actually worse than RealPlayer’s. Ask yourself: what conceivable justification does one have for installing an extension to run a user-level uncompression routine? After you upgrade to Tiger, Stuffit Expander stops working until you find (by hand!) the “Stuffit Engine” file and put it into the right magic directory (or, you can just give up and reinstall Stuffit from scratch). It’s as if the idea that an application should be self- contained is repulsive to the authors of Stuffit. The only way they could possibly make their software less pleasant to install and use would be if, whenever I double-clicked the application, bees flew out of my Mac’s USB port and stung me in the eyes.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a sample of the comments up at versiontracker on this issue:

Unbelievable: Allume are now up on my “most hated” list, surpassing Real. If you try and download StuffIt from their website you HAVE to give them a valid email address, so that they can spam you and try and persuade you to buy the “deluxe” version.

The thing that I find maddening here is that the makers of Stuffit are trying to facehug their way into getting you to pay for a service that already works great for free. And, apparently, they’ve done a good job of fooling people into thinking their format is essential, since lots of newly developed Mac apps (for example about half of these games) are compressed with Stuffit.

Once upon a time, Stuffit solved a real problem. Today, Stuffit is the problem. I appreciate that the guys at Allume have every right to try to make a buck. But I say sincerely, and without malice, that I hope they are forced to find some other way to make that buck. Write an app that does something the OS doesn’t do for me, or that at least does it better.

Here’s my challenge to you, Mac users. When you upgrade to Tiger, don’t even bother reinstalling Stuffit expander. Spread the word to the people providing your apps that you’d appreciate getting them in a reasonable format (such as zip, dmg, or dmg.gz) that doesn’t require you to download third-party software.

Additional Resources

There are some other things that lazy developers use even though they’re really quite horrid. We’ve written about quite a few of them here: