Stuffit 1.0

508 words

5K on disk

July 1987

Stuffit 1.0

Faster than PackIt

Given the outsize importance that Stuffit had in the online life of the Macintosh through the 1980s and ’90s, it’s interesting to look back at its origins in the Summer of 1987.

Ray Lau was a high school student in New York State who liked to swap files with friends over the modem. But he was dissatisfied with the available compression tools. Compression was essential part of the file exchange process, because Resource Forks and other Mac-specific information would be lost in transit without “packing” the file in a special format. The current standard was PackIt, but Lau found that there were more sophisticated approaches on other platforms, such as UNIX. Lau got the source code of two such utilities, Archive and Compress, the latter of which used the Lempel-Ziv-Welch lossless algorithm.

Based on these ideas, from the wider world of other operating systems, Lau would beat PackIt at its own game. Early documentation and forum posts about StuffIt are, in fact, full of references to PackIt, and how the Lau’s program would supersede it:

StuffIt’s function is the same as that of PackIt II. […] It is appreciably faster than PackIt. It is also more efficient than PackIt. StuffIt’s compression is on the average 8-13% better than that of PackIt.

But it wasn’t algorithmic supremacy that Lau was aiming at: Stuffit was also an attempt at a very different business model. Unlike PackIt, StuffIt was shareware, not freeware. In the words of one observer many years later,

PackIt was free for all, and StuffIt was the first to try to make a compression standard that you had to pay to use (at least to compress). If StuffIt compression hadn’t been a lot more space-saving, it wouldn’t have had a chance.

Stuffit 1.0 was distributed on Compuserve and several other commercial online services. Nobody seems to have uploaded that very first release to Usenet, which makes 1.10 (released in late October 1987) probably the first version to hit the Internet.

Even before that update, however, users had already taken aim at what they saw as a flaw in Stuffit: the visual design of the program’s icons for itself and the files it created. The original icons featured a trash can with a set of letters and tools arrayed around it. Some of these were easy to decode: “SIT | RL” stood for Stuffit and Raymond Lao, but the fly swatter was harder to explain, and the chain connecting the lid of the trash can to the bin itself added visual noise:

By October 1, a set of replacement icons had emerged, drawn by the pen of Jay W. McGuire of Michigan:

These were posted to Usenet by the end of the same month, with the description:

a couple of alternate icons which at least one person found more appealing than the stuffed trash cans that StuffIt uses.

Apparently Lau himself agreed — Stuffit 1.20, which was posted to Usenet by Lau himself in December 1987, included a revised set of icons which referenced McGuire’s design:

More to come…

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Stuffit 1.0
Kind: Faster than PackIt
Size: 5080 bytes, accounts for 5K on disk
Where:Software, internal drive
Created:Wednesday, July 15, 1987 at 10:53 PM
Modified:Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 10:52 PM