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Is there Software that Will Allow Me to Keep All the Software on My Machine Up to Date?

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Leo, is there a program updater out there that you recommend? I’m currently running Windows 7 on my laptop and Windows 8 on my desktop.

The answer really depends on what you mean by program updater. If you mean a third party program that will somehow keep track of all the various versions of all the various software that you have installed and try to manage updates for you, there are a couple to try. But it’s an incredibly difficult problem to solve and solve well.

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Relying on the software itself

My personal approach is to use no additional software.

If software installed on my machine updates on its own or notifies me of available updates, I let it. I use Windows/Microsoft Update to update Windows itself automatically, as well as any additional software like Microsoft Office that it might keep track of at the same time.

Ultimately, I just let everything update itself if it can, automatically if possible. Everything I else, I pretty much ignore until I have some reason to care. And when you think about it, most of the major software these days, and particularly the software that has major impact on security, is already updating itself one way or another.

Updaters

Downloading PatchNow at the other end of the spectrum, there are programs that will do the installs for you or inventory your system and tell you what’s out of date.

Ninite is a program that I keep hearing about that automates the install of a number of very common programs, and at the same time apparently also keeps them up to date.

Ninite makes the installation easier by essentially just letting you choose from a menu of possible programs. When you click on “ok”, it then just installs them all without you having to do them one at a time, avoiding most foistware in the process. One of my assistants is a real big fan, and it’s on my list to look at more closely some day.

The Secunia Personal Software Inspector is a tool that examines the software installed on your machine with an eye towards security.

You download it, you run it, it tells you what’s out of date, and then it gives you the option to update those things that need updating. I have it, but it’s been a while since I last ran it, so I just now ran it on my Windows 8 machine preparing for this article. It told me about 12 programs on my machine that needed updating; all of which I understood and expected (it’s a kind of side effect of how I manage my utility software). And it also told me that there are 103 programs that are up to date.

If I was going to recommend one program for most people with already-installed software, it would probably be Secunia’s free tool. It does install software that then keeps running, presumably to keep monitoring what tools are out of date and need updating – so there will be a little icon that will show up in the notification area after you’ve run the free tool. You can turn on this off, but it is there by default.

Update scanners to avoid

I do have to point out one area where free update scanners can often cause much more harm than good, and that’s with respect to drivers. There are tons of ads out there for utilities that will scan your computers for updates and a large number that are specifically targeted at updating drivers.

I avoid them all.

Don’t do it. Aside from the usual scams that actually do nothing in exchange for your money, automated driver updates by these utilities often result in systems that end up with more problems, not fewer. When it comes to drivers, I recommend only updating them when offered or recommended by Windows Update; when offered or recommended by the software already on your machine for that specific hardware; or when you are diagnosing a specific problem.

So, in summary Ninite sounds very promising; Secunia is a good tool that I can recommend; and when it comes to drivers, just don’t. And also, make sure to enable automatic updates that are offered by the software on your machine already, including Windows itself.

13 comments on “Is there Software that Will Allow Me to Keep All the Software on My Machine Up to Date?”

  1. I’ve been using the FileHippo Update checker for the past couple of years. It’s been a big help. Even though you have to manually download and update the programs yourself it’s still a nice reminder to update your programs. I’ve set my update checker to run at start-up.

    The only downfall is that it doesn’t cover all apps only programs listed on the File Hippo site. For me that’s a majority of my apps though.

  2. I have to agree with Leo’s policy of avoiding automatic driver updates. I’d go even further by saying that I also try to avoid installing driver updates from any source other than the computer manufacturer. Microsoft, for example, can make sure that driver updates don’t conflict with Windows, but they can’t possibly test all the hardware combinations available from all the computer manufacturers. I’ve spent 30 years in a corporate setting and 9 years working for myself and have seen far too many instances where driver updates from anywhere other than the hardware manufacturer themselves have caused compatibility issues. For this reason, when needed, I manually update using drivers supplied by the manufacturer of the computer. Only if a driver is unavailable there, will I go to Microsoft update or the device manufacturer’s web site but, and I’m in total agreement with Leo on this, I NEVER auto-update drivers from any source. This is one area where the old adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” applies.

    • I’m pretty confident of Windows driver updates as those drivers are normally updated by the device manufacturer and simply delivered by Microsoft along with their updates.

      • I’m not necessarily opposed to using drivers supplied by Microsoft or other sources… Just not as my first choice. I worked for a computer manufacturer in my corporate life and we performed thorough compatibility testing on every new device driver for use on our systems. If problems were encountered, we worked with the device manufacturer to resolve it. This often meant that we would skip version(s) of driver software released on our web site. So I guess my point is that, at least in my opinion, drivers delivered by the computer manufacturer are usually the safest alternative. –Certainly not the only one though…

      • It has been my experience that driver updates delivered by win update are usually out of date. In a couple of cases ( video card for one ) Win update actually rolled back my drivers, forcing me to update them again.

  3. I use and highly recommend ninite.com It’s my favorite tool for setting up a new computer. Very easy to use. You pick the software you want from the list they have available, and it downloads what you pick and installs in the background. Automatically passes on the “additional software” that some software packages try to bring along. Plus, you run the downloader again to check for updates to all the software you picked.

  4. The problem I have with letting the various software packages update themselves, is they’ll quite often do that by leaving an update checker running all the time. If you have a bunch of those update checkers running, they can combine to slow down your system.

    With Ninite, you could even set up a scheduled task to run it and have it automatically update everything.

  5. I use avast! Free and one of its features is a software update checker. The free version doesn’t automatically update my software but it gives me the opportunity to update my software manually. It only does major application software but that’s good enough for me. It often informs me of Flash updates before Adobe tells me about the update.

  6. I had been using Secunia for years an have no problems, now you have me worry, because you said not to let anybody upgrade your drivers???, I am not a computer wizard. I will have to find more about it.
    Thanks for the advice any way, regards, from Finland.

    • My understanding is that a) Secunia doesn’t look at drivers and b) Secuinia doesn’t update anything – it just tells you what needs it.

  7. File Hippo is ok, but it doesn’t catch all programs. I used to use it for a couple of years. CNets updater was ok, but now you have to be carefull of those extra programs it tries to install & I don’t use that program anymore. Currently I’m using Allmyapps. It does a pretty good job of finding most of your installed software and the update process is pretty simple with only a few clicks to update any 1 program. I would compare it to Secunia’s program as far as catching most installed software on a persons system. & I never do driver updates with anything but Windows updater & Nvidia updater as I know it’s safe & came with my gaming Laptop

  8. I have been using Ninite to download programs when I can. If it’s an audio or videoI go to Videohelp and at least I know ahead what I might be getting into. I run PatchmyPC every month for clean updates.

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