Aladdin Systems, Inc.
There are few software companies that have the storied history of Aladdin Systems. The company's flagship product, Stuffit, is used by millions of Mac owners. In addition to the number one file compression software for the Macintosh market, Aladdin Systems has recently introduced two ground breaking applications—Private File and FlashBack.
The ATPM staff recently met up with Jennifer Lyng, Aladdin's Public Relations Manager, and had a chance to learn a bit more about the company, its unique way of doing business and its new products. We'd like to share the conversation with our readers.
ATPM: Aladdin Systems has a long relationship with Apple and the Mac OS. For the benefit of our readers, would you tell us how Aladdin Systems got started in the Macintosh utilities market? To date, what would you say has been Aladdin's "shining moment" in the Macintosh market?
Aladdin: Aladdin Systems, Inc. was founded in 1988 to develop software products for Apple and IBM computers, by four people all of whom are still with the company or on the board today. After moving to the West Coast from New York, the foursome rented a house together in Aptos, CA where they lived upstairs and manufactured, assembled and shipped their products downstairs. As sales grew they added employees until the time came to "leave home," and Aladdin moved to Watsonville, CA where it is currently established.
Shortly after its founding, Aladdin Systems teamed up with 15 year-old Raymond Lau, author of today's world wide compression standard StuffIt, to further develop the state-of-the-art compression, security, and archiving product and to introduce new, innovative software. Aladdin made its debut in the Macintosh marketplace in the summer of 1989 with the introduction of Raymond Lau's Shortcutª, a system enhancement for the Macintosh that provides file and disk management within every application's Open and Save dialog. Today Raymond is a graduate student at MIT in Massachusetts, and still stays in touch with the company. Aladdin views the shareware/freeware market as a vital and strategic part of its business, and will continue to offer products like StuffIt Expander for free. Today, Aladdin is known for quality utility applications and software developer tools.
Shining Moment Certainly in retrospect Aladdin's first "shining moment" would have to be the day we signed the contract with Raymond to take over publishing of StuffIt! In a similar—but more recent—way, Spring Cleaning comes to mind. We discovered a product called LaundroMac by Peter Caylor in its nascent stage at Macworld EXPO in Boston last year. We loved the product and believed it had tremendous potential. In the following months we acquired LaundroMac and worked closely with Peter to take the program to the next level. With some renovations we announced it as Spring Cleaning at the end of October 1996. Spring Cleaning ended up being even more successful than we had anticipated. Today we are looking forward to the much anticipated new 2.0 version, which should ship within the next 90 days.
ATPM: StuffIt, Aladdin's excellent file compression utility, has gone from being a single player in the compression market—up against DiskDoubler, AutoDoubler, and Now Compress—to being the only surviving Macintosh compression product. How did all that happen?
Aladdin: While it would be easy to say that StuffIt succeeded because it was the best product, and there is some truth to that, I think it misses the mark. Looking back there are three elements that combined to make StuffIt the world-wide standard it is today. First, and probably most important, is Aladdin's strong customer orientation. We really do put the customer first, and we'll do just about anything for our customers.
A good example of that is the way we have, not once but twice, given away free upgrades to our products. Spring Cleaning has been hailed by some of our customers as the best utility they've ever purchased, and there's no question it is a good product. Some would say very good. But it is not a great product—at least not by Aladdin's standards. And that is the standard to which we hold ourselves. So, against all financial logic, we decided to make the upgrade from Spring Cleaning 1.0 to Spring Cleaning 2.0 free to all registered users. (And free really means free. There will be a 100% free download patch from the Internet and registered users can call an 800 for a new disk and manual free with a $9.95 shipping charge.) With over 100,000 units sold you can calculate the lost sales to Aladdin. But that's the way we treat our customers.
Second, Aladdin has always been a tough competitor. Along with high quality products we have usually been the price leader. Superior products and lower prices makes life hard for the competition. Part of that this price and value competitiveness is in our freeware and shareware product line. People forget that Netscape and McAfee were actually following in Aladdin's footsteps in their high profile releases of full featured software and regular product upgrades with no up front charge.
Finally, you do have to give credit to the terrific engineers who kept raising the quality and the capabilities of StuffIt. Whether you look at it from an ease of use point of view, speed of compression and decompression, compression ratio or integration into the Finder and other products, StuffIt Deluxe is a fantastic product.
ATPM: There has been a lot written about the fact that Mac owners haven't needed to upgrade their hardware as often as PC owners. Does the loyalty of Mac owners (including how long they hold onto their computers) factor into your product and marketing plans?
Aladdin: Absolutely! We've done a lot of research about the Mac market specific to our products and have found that Mac enthusiasts not only hold on to their Macs, but often have more than one. Many of our particular users are "early adopters;" they enjoy trying new products that enhance what they've got. We talk to our users a lot. In fact we send out thousands of surveys every month to our customers. Listening to what they want, what they like and dislike, is tremendously important. Our customers are very outspoken and they're quick to point out where we've failed, and we always pay attention!
The flip side of that is that Mac customers are very loyal to companies that deliver on what they promise and address mistakes when they are pointed out. Loyalty is very much a two way street.
ATPM: A lot has been written recently about problems in the Mac OS software market. What would you say is the biggest hurdle for Mac OS software companies today. Is it the Mac OS market share, lack of retail shelf space, etc?
Aladdin: Aladdin has branched out with our product line, especially in the past year. With the success of StuffIt Deluxe in the retail channel we've been able to gain acceptance for our new products, so lack of retail shelf space is not a huge issue for us. But we know we are the exception.
Probably the biggest hurdle for everyone in the Mac market today is the air of uncertainty around the Mac OS itself. Apple's ambivalence over the clones, the unrelentingly negative press and the difficulties Apple is experiencing internally all contribute to this negative climate. But the fact remains that Mac OS computers are more stable, less expensive to support and easier to use than any other platform. In
the long run that accounts for a lot of the Mac community's loyalty, and bodes well for its long term viability.
All of us at Aladdin look at the early adoption of OS 8, Microsoft's commitment to Apple, and the fundamental viability of the Macintosh OS, and have great confidence in the Mac OS market. So, we are excited about the future and look forward to continuing to support both the Macintosh and Windows communities with new and innovative products.
ATPM: Aladdin has recently introduced Flashback and Private File. Can you tell us a bit about them and how they fit into Aladdin's utility line-up? What other new products might you have in development?
Aladdin: Aladdin introduced FlashBack and Private File in August of 1997, and we're very excited about the potential of both products.
FlashBack is an entirely new safety utility that falls in between traditional back up software and file recovery utilities. Once you FlashBack a file, you can recover any previously saved version (up to 99). It is kind of like adding unlimited undos to any document from any application. Having instant file recovery at your finger tips can be a real life saver.
IS professionals love the auto tracking feature that allows them to have FlashBack protect databases and shared files on an hourly or even minute by minute basis. When there is a crash they can restore the file in seconds, without going back to the tape backups and without losing more than an hour's input!
It is also wonderful for graphic artists who often do dozens of revisions to a layout or an image. With FlashBack they can restore a file to the way it looked a day, a week or a month previously without needing to keep thirty "save as" copies junking up their hard disk. FlashBack tracks all the changes for them automatically, with time and date stamps, every time they hit the save key!
FlashBack functions by tracking the changes made to a file each time the file is saved. Changes are maintained in the FlashBack application for each file and every version is time and date stamped. At any time in the future the user can double click on any previous version and FlashBack instantly re-creates the file as it was at the time and date indicated.
Private File is the easiest way to protect a user's sensitive information for secure transmission over the Internet or for secure retention on a syquest, zip or hard disk. Private File uses powerful 128-bit encryption to encrypt files and folders and is as easy to use as Drag and Drop! To encrypt, drop files and folders onto the PF Encrypt application and enter a password. The items will be encrypted as a compressed single document and ready for transmission. There is also an "encrypt and mail" option through magic menu that make encrypting, compressing, opening your e-mail program, starting a new message and attaching the secure file a single step!
Private File's hybrid CD provides the option of installing Macintosh or Windows 95/NT versions for each license, so it is completely cross-platform. Files created on either system can be sent to Mac and Windows users without modification.
We made our product even more appealing by including a two-user license for the price of one. With an expected street price of only $49.95 for both users (each box includes two serial numbers and two registration cards) we think a lot of people will make Private File their first choice for file level security.
It is also worth noting that the next release of our freeware Expander (coming out in this year) will be able to decrypt files encrypted by Private File—if you've got the password!
ATPM: Stuffit has been an important product for your company and for Mac users. Do you have any enhancements under development you think our readers would find interesting? Are you planning any significant upgrades to take advantage of OS 8's new features?
Aladdin: Significant enhancements of StuffIt Deluxe 4.5, the next version, expected in the next 90 days, will include fixes to the three Mac OS 8 incompatibilities in 4.0 and at support least five new compression standards including MIME/Base64 support.
ATPM: There's a lot of talk about Apple's new operating system code-named Rhapsody. Is Aladdin planning to develop software specifically for the new OS or are you taking a "wait-and-see" attitude at this time?
Aladdin: Aladdin's product development is occurring all the time, whether it is on new products or improving the current line. Software developers get a sneak peak at Apple developments so that we can be prepared for the launch of a new OS and also develop products that help to enhance the OS. We intend to continue our development concurrent with Apple's development.
ATPM: If there's one thing you'd like ATPM's readers to know about Aladdin Systems and its products, what would it be?
Aladdin: Aladdin strives to provide products that are designed to help users take full advantage of their computers by making life easier. We pride ourselves on listening to our customers (hint: we love feedback) for improvements and new ideas. We've got a great team here and are happy to share our products with the Macintosh community.
ATPM: Jennifer, thank you for your time. We look forward to talking with you again soon.
If you or your company would like to be interviewed here, please drop us a line at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Also in This Series
- Heather Sitarzewski, Graphic Designer · September 2010
- John Hart, ModYourMac.com · August 2005
- Jonathan Gales, MobileTracker.net · May 2003
- Frank Vercruesse (author of Application Switcher Menu) · January 2002
- Daniel Knight, Low End Mac · September 2001
- Dan Bailey, Fontosaurus Text · June 2001
- Gerry Beggs, Gerry’s ICQ · July 2000
- Chuck Fox, FreeMac · October 1999
- Oliver Joppich, iCab Company · March 1999
- Aladdin Systems, Inc. · September 1997
- Complete Archive