Sunday, October 28, 2007

Maintaining Application Updates

Lavie and I purchased our first home pc back in the mid 90's.

We picked up a Gateway tower unit.  It was really fun selecting our choices of memory, processor, drive, software options.

Whoppin Windows 98.

Heady stuff.

One of the applications that came with it was called Oil Change.

It promised to help keep installed software up-to-date by running periodic scans and queries. I used it once or twice but that was it.

Today I keep really close tabs on the operating system updates and patches, along with my web-browsers and security software.  But to be honest, most other software updating takes a back seat.

I wouldn't say I have a "lot" of software installed on my systems, but certainly much more that would be easy to keep up with.

With the exception of DAT (signature) files for anti-virus and anti-malware I generally don't keep a close on versions.  If an application I have installed is running fine and stable, and a newer version doesn't really have any remarkable enhancement over a previous one, I usually remain happy with the status-quo.

I have recently been experimenting with several new freeware applications that promise to help with the task of monitoring your software for updated versions.

Here's what I think, in order of preference:

Free Software Updating Offerings

  1. Microsoft Windows Update - If you are a Windows system user, you MUST make this your number one stop for critical updates.  Check for "Recommended" and "Driver" updates as well from time to time.

  2. Microsoft Office Online - Stop two.  Since we run Microsoft Office, we also must make sure that our Office software is fully patched and updated to avoid exploits.  This is something that many users (home and work) frequently forget to do.

  3. Software Inspector - Secunia - This free on-line scan service fro Secunia checks your Windows system for insecure versions of common software applications.  It can run under Internet Explorer, Opera, or Firefox as long as you have a recent Java installation.  I really, really, really like this service.  It is fast and provides wonderful feedback on insecure findings, offering you information on the vulnerable version as well as (often) links to the latest update. You can perform a "fast" scan or a "full" scan which will look for software installed in "non-standard" locations on your drives.

  4. Personal Software Inspector (PSI) - Secunia - This is a localized version of Secunia's Software Inspector.  Though still in beta-status, it is pretty spectacular and has a number of things going for it.
    1. Secunia claims it scans for over 4,700 software applications,
    2. It identifies insecure versions,
    3. It identifies End-of-Life software versions,
    4. It provides direct-download links to software updates and patches,
    5. It runs in the background, monitoring your system constantly,
    6. You can set the options to skip certain drives or folders if you keep archived older-versions present.
    7. Clicking on any item identified provides a wealth of information on the reason for the alert, including a summary, solution, any installation deviation information, your installation path, and reference links.

  5. Update Checker - FileHippo is one of my most trusted sources for good, quality freeware/shareware applications.  They don't have everything, but what they do offer is high-quality and pretty mainstream software applications.  Download their update-checker which is a single exe file.  When run (requires .NET 2.0) it opens a web-page that will list any newer version updates to software they offer found installed on your system.  They also can provide beta-updates as well.  It is fast and works well for me because since I use many of the applications from this site, I get good match coverage.

  6. AppGet - Download the tool and install.  Once ran, it scans your system for installed versions.  Then hit the "synchronize" button to check your list against that maintained by the AppGet server.  On my system it found 78 applications and 29 that needed updates.  Of those, many were actually "beta" versions, so again, be careful.  It did run very fast and provides a clear link URL to view as to the source location of the file you are downloading (if available). It is community supported so it is only as good as those that contribute and participate.

  7. UpdateStar - This freeware utility is a relatively new kid on the block. It claims to support over 80,000 products. The interface is pretty Web 2.0, but is simple to use.  Here's the thing; like AppGet, it is supported by the community of users.  Right now it says I have 73 matching applications, of those, 4 are out of date and need to be updated.  Two entries report the application Eraser with my installed version as 5.7 (it is the current one) but it claims the current version is 5.84. Same with AVG Free. It says the current version is 7.5 and isn't picking up my 7.5.488.1157 version correctly.  Also, 27 applications it found installed, it doesn't have a corresponding version to offer, me.  Which gets back to the heart of the matter. If you want it to be accurate, you need to participate in the community.  So for any mis-matches, or non-matches, you really would need to do some homework, click the "submit-update" button on each one, enter in the web-form the correct version information, update links, etc and then submit it up to Update Star staff for them to authenticate and repost to an updated database.  The other issue is that you need to check the linkage for the "downloads" pretty careful.  I can hope that they are correct and not pointing to false locations, but for example, on my system, Update Star is pointing to a "S & S Royal Limited" for the latest versions of Eraser not Heidi Computer's Limited.  So while Update Star shows some nice promise, I wouldn't depend on it quite yet as an authoritative source.  Might be good for quick research, then track out on your own to confirm each finding.

  8. AppSnap - This is a clever little tool.  Once ran, it provides a list of popular software applications.  You can select the ones you are interested in, download them, and install them.  There is a little drop-down combo box at the top to display by a certain category.  If you are looking for updated versions, pick the "upgradeable" option.  On my system it only found one match that could be upgraded (EverNote) out of a total of seven applications I have installed that also match it's offerings.  It is a nice tool and useful, assuming you have at least one application installed that matches its database.  I rather like the plain interface.

  9. VersionTracker (website) - this website lists updated versions of many, many applications. The thing is you need to know what you already have installed and then monitor the site frequently.  Registered users get some more bells and whistles.

  10. RSS Feeds - There are a handful of software providers that provide very high-quality software utilities that I depend on (NirSoft and Sysinternals).   To stay up-to-date on these sources, I have subscribed to their RSS feed lists.  Many (though not all) software vendors or download sites have RSS feeds to provide their fans updates.  By monitoring these you can stay up to date on updates!

  11. Honorable Mentions: win-get Repository and Appupdater worth looking into, but not for the average home user.  You need to be comfortable with the command-line for these beauties.

Regardless of the method, find at least a few locations and tools here and use them to periodically assess your software situation.  Keep you Windows system up to date with the latest Microsoft patches and at least run Secunia's on-line Inspector from time to time.  This should at the very least help keep your system free from vulnerable versions of common applications.  Then play with the others as well and see if you might find them useful for keeping an eye out for your other applications.


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