We all have software installed on our computers. Most popular software is periodically updated to add features, fix bugs, improve security, improve usability, or provide additional functionality. While some software notifies the user that updates are available, and some software can be configured to automatically update itself, the vast majority of software provides the user with no information when either major new versions are available or minor improvements are made. To regularly maintain our software libraries may require us to spend a lot of time researching new updates and versions, or we can use one of several utilities, generically referred to as “Software Update Monitors” (SUMs), that can quickly determine the versions of software that are installed on our computers and then search the Internet to determine if any newer versions or builds are available. Some of these SUMs simply provide the user with a listing of the outdated software installed on his computer and possibly Web links to download the updated software, while other “SUMs” actually reach out and automatically download and install the updated software.
One factor that users might want to consider before updating software that they are satisfied with is that the appearance or usability of the newer software might be different from the older versions they are familiar with. It is also possible that an older, stable version will be replaced by a less stable newer version, leading to software crashes or freezes. While there are many examples of software updates that led to unhappy users, the overwhelming majority of software updates are generally beneficial, especially if security is enhanced.
There are several of these Software Updates Managers available, mostly for free, that when run, will automatically determine which software needs to be updated, and then automatically download and install the updates. A listing and review of several of them is available at Gizmo’s Tech Support Alert (www.techsupportalert.com ). One of my favorites, and the favorite of millions of users, is Ninite (ninite.com). Ninite is simple and very reliable. Ninite can also be used to automatically install new software on a computer. To use Ninite, go to ninite.com and follow the on-screen directions and Ninite will install apps for you in the background. No clicking next. Your installer will update apps to the latest versions.
The Ninite installer is run by the user and very quickly searches the computer for any of the selected programs, determining the installed versions. If a new program is selected from the Ninite list, Ninite is intelligent enough to recognize that it is a clean install, and will install the selected programs. If the latest versions of selected programs are already installed, Ninite will recognize that fact and not download or reinstall the program, leaving the current program intact. Ninite will access the Internet, go directly to the software publishers’ website or officially authorized download location, sequentially download each update or new program, and install it without user intervention. One especially nice feature of Ninite is that the installation and updating of software does not require any user intervention; there is no “Next” button to click, no frequent rebooting, and Ninite automatically rejects any unnecessary add-ons such as toolbars, home page changes, and junk files. While automatically downloading multiple programs and updates does not require any user intervention, it may take some time to physically download and install the several files, with progress displayed in real time.
The basic Ninite installer is free for personal use, and is reusable without needing to download a fresh copy unless additional software is added to the list. Rerunning the small installer periodically is a good practice, as it will again check the selected software for updates, automatically downloading and installing the updates. If a user changes his or her software library, either adding or deleting titles, returning to the Ninite.com website and reselecting software is a fast and easy process, with a fresh copy of the installer almost instantly created and downloaded. For individuals who want totally automated software updating without having to manually run SUMs like the free version of Ninite, Ninite offers Ninite Updater, a $9.99 (annual subscription) utility that automatically and frequently checks for new software versions in the background without user intervention, and if any updates are found, places a red “N” (for Ninite) notification in the system tray; one click, and updates are downloaded and installed. If no updates are currently available, a bright green “N” appears in the system tray. For large corporate, organizational, or academic users, Ninite Pro can automatically maintain and update the software on all of the networked computers. Ninite Pro pricing is based on the number of computers in use, and can be as low as $20 per month for up to 100 connected computers, incrementally increasing to $185 per month for up to 1000 connected computers; for more than 1000 connected computers, Ninite offers custom pricing.
Another freestanding SUMs update checker I periodically use is Patch My PC, available as a free download from patchmypc.net/download. PatchMyPC.exe is a small, 477kb program that requires no installation, is ready to run when downloaded, and can also be run from a flash drive as a portable update checker. Patch My PC has been reviewed by many of the computer publications and websites, and has earned numerous awards, including a five star (highest) editors’ rating from CNET, “Editors’ Pick” from Majorgeeks, and a five star “Essential” rating from FindMySoft Review. Patch My PC is very easy to use; run it, and it will very quickly search the user’s computer for eligible software. According to the Patch My PC website, “When Patch My PC is started, it will scan for outdated software automatically. If outdated software is detected, it will be shown as Red; up to date software will show as Green; and if it’s not installed it will show as Black.” Patch My PC can be as simple as running it, allowing it to identify the most common software installed on the computer, and selecting to update all of the out-of-date software found. For those users who want greater power and control, Patch My PC offers a lot of flexibility and options. Selecting “Other Software” from either the menu in the left margin or a tab on the top-left of the window displays a lengthy list of other, less common software than can be monitored and updated by Patch My PC. One of the menu items on the left margin invokes Microsoft’s Windows Update service, and checks for any uninstalled Windows updates. Tabs over the right window offer additional service to the user, including a startup manager, an uninstaller, a scheduler to automatically check for software updates at selected times, and an options tab that allows the user to better control the functionality of the program. I have found Patch My PC to be both powerful and useful, and it’s one of the utilities that I carry on a keychain flash drive, to be used whenever I need to check another computer for software updates.
By choice, I prefer to have the newest and latest versions of the software that I frequently use, and both Ninite and Patch My PC are excellent ways to maintain a software library. Each has software titles lacking on the other, so I periodically switch between them, running one, and then running the other a few weeks later. These two Software Updates Managers, as well as most of the others, have made it very easy to keep our software updated; this is one of the several necessities often required to enhance our computer security.