Easy, fast way to update or install free software

A regular reader of this column suggested that I write about a free service that can automatically install and update the most popular freeware programs available. She recommended Ninite, but I was also familiar with a competitive service from AllMyApps. While both have comprehensive listings of free software, AllMyApps also includes links to some commercial software applications, so I would have to give the edge to Ninite when it comes to the mass installation of free software.

San Francisco based Ninite (ninite.com) offers about 85 of the most widely used free Windows programs which can be selectively installed without any intervention by the user once the programs have been selected from the Ninite list. To implement the Ninite service, the user simply checks the software titles desired, and downloads the small installer that automates the install process. The automated installer installs all of the selected programs without any intervention; there is no “next” to click, and questionable optional items such as toolbars are automatically refused during the installation process. The freeware files downloaded and installed by Ninite are always up to date with the latest versions available. What is especially helpful and useful is that the single installer remembers which programs were selected, and rerunning the installer will automatically check for the latest versions and updates, and install them; there is no need to re-download a new installer unless additional programs are selected or previously selected programs are no longer desired. The Ninite installer can identify the operating system of the computer and intelligently install 32 or 64-bit versions as appropriate. Since most of the freeware programs are multi-lingual, the programs offer a selection of languages during the install process; Ninite will identify the chosen language on the computer and install the software with the correct language option.

It is not necessary to create an account on the Ninite Web site, and no signup is required to make full use of the services. For business and other commercial users with a large number of computers to maintain, Ninite offers a “Pro” version for a mere 20 cents per computer per month, which will transparently maintain the free programs on the covered computers, but the Pro version is not necessary for home users who use the free installer.

The Ninite Web site at ninite.com is very intuitive and easy to use; the page is divided up into categories of free software, and all the user needs to do is check the box adjacent to the selected programs, and then download the customized installer at the bottom of the page. The downloaded installer does all of the work with no intervention required of the user. The categories of free software available on the Ninite Web site are Web Browsers, Messaging, Media, Runtimes, Imaging, Documents, Security, File Sharing, Other, Utilities, Compression and Developer Tools; each category contains from two to fifteen programs, all selectable by check box.

For those who would like to try or use multiple Internet browsers, Ninite offers Google’s Chrome, Firefox, Apple’s Safari and Opera. As with all Ninite categories, any one, any combination or all can be automatically downloaded and installed with the Ninite installer. Many people use a variety of messaging, and Ninite can selectively install any or all of several messaging products including Skype (Internet Telephone), Windows Live Messenger, Pidgin (supports multiple instant messaging clients), Digsby (supports multiple instant messaging clients), Google Talk, Thunderbird E-mail Reader, AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) and the Yahoo! IM Client. The media category includes 15 media utilities, including iTunes, Hulu (internet TV), VLC (most widely used video and audio player which plays almost all known formats), Winamp, and QuickTime.

Ninite can help to keep the popular “runtimes” (programs used to run other programs) up to date on the users’ computer, and include such runtimes as Java, Flash, Silverlight and .Net. Anyone who may need to view or edit digital images in a variety of formats can select Microsoft’s Paint.NET, Google’s Picasa, GIMP, IrfanView (my personal favorite that can also play all video and audio files with the “AllPlugIns” option) and a variety of other image editors and viewers. People often find that they need a multiplicity of document utilities in order to open, view or edit a variety of documents, and Ninite obliges by offering a wide assortment of document software. Among the selection are a trial version of Microsoft Office 2007, OpenOffice (reads and writes almost all office documents, including Microsoft office), LibreOffice (my choice that can (read and write almost all office documents, including Microsoft office), and several PDF writers that can create PDF documents from almost any program that can print files.

Readers of this column may be aware that I am tenacious about security, and have layered security on all of my computers. The free security software included on Ninite are among the most popular available, and includes Microsoft Security essentials, Avast, AVG, MalwareBytes (on every computer that I use), Ad-Aware, Spybot Search and Destroy, and SuperAntispyware (my favorite and on every computer that I use). Users who are engaged in file sharing (a possibly dangerous online activity) may find that uTorrent and eMule will serve them well. The “Other” category on Ninite includes several miscellaneous but useful free utilities including Dropbox (online backup and file sync utility), Evernote (online notes), Google Earth, password managers, file search utilities, and the Mozy online backup service. Ninite offers 16 assorted utilities, including the very popular CCleaner (disk cleaner with additional utilities), Defraggler (hard drive defragmenting), Recuva (file undelete and recovery), Revo Uninstaller, Glary System Utilities (comprehensive computer maintenance tools) ninite.com/linux and several other useful utilities.

While recent versions of Windows can handle the common “zip” compressed file format, there are many other compression formats in wide use that Windows cannot natively process. Ninite offers 7-Zip (a popular free compression/decompression utility that can handle almost all compression formats), and a trial version of the commercial WinZip. Other useful free utilities available in the Ninite “Developer Tools” category are programming tools, FileZilla (FTP client), Notepad++ (text editor that can open and edit many file formats), and some other utilities.

Ninite is not just for Windows, as it has a similar listing of 17 free programs for those using the Linux operating system, at ninite.com/linux. Just like the Windows version, checking the boxes and downloading the installer simplifies and automates the software installation process for Linux users.

With a fine, free, service like Ninite, it is easy for any PC or Linux user to have the most popular free software programs on his computer, and keep them updated. Thanks Ninite!

Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.