Here's Why You Must Keep Your Software Updated (and how to do it for free)
The most common computer problems can be fixed or avoided altogether, simply by keeping all of your software up to date. Updates include patches for security vulnerabilities as well as fixes for bugs, new features, and improvements of existing features. Check out these free programs that will help you keep all your software updated, with just a few clicks...
Do You Need a Software Updater, Driver Updater, Both, or Neither?
Over the years, I have consistently exhorted readers to “keep your software up to date.” The efficiency of your computer system depends upon this basic maintenance chore. So does the security of your system, the information stored on it, your identity, your credit rating, your ability to rent or buy a home… well, let’s just say a lot of important things depend upon how well you keep your software up to date.
An old version of any program may seem “good enough” but it may be constantly getting worse in terms of vulnerability to hackers and conflicts with more recent software. So it is essential to keep all your software up to date. Unfortunately, that’s no easy task, unless you have some help, which we’ll get to in just a minute.
Most important is your Windows operating system, and fortunately, that's taken care of by Windows Update, which runs automatically. Windows Update also auto-updates Microsoft Office and other Microsoft software. But you probably have other vendors’ software that also needs updating. Some vendors provide auto-update utilities similar to Windows Update, others do not.
Some updaters are notorious resource hogs or may be so buggy that they disrupt normal operation of your system. It is not uncommon for users to disable problematic updaters, leaving the software they support vulnerable to hackers and the increasingly inferior performance of obsolete software. That’s where third-party “software updater” software can come in handy.
Fortunately, there are software updaters that are free, and have the smarts to strip out those unwanted (and sometimes dangerous) extras. Let's take a look at some I believe are best of breed.
Ring Updater to Rule Them All?
Patch My PC silently updates over 300 popular programs. I like that it downloads your updates directly from the software vendor websites, to ensure you're getting the official version from the most up-to-date source. It takes only a few seconds for it to identify any software that needs updating. Even better, it strips the foistware out of installation packages before installing updates; no toolbars or browser hijackings!
Also nice is that programs update silently, bypassing the "install wizards." There's an option to create a restore point before updating, and you can also use it to quickly uninstall any unwanted programs. Patch My PC is 100% free and downloads quickly. The user interface is a bit cluttered, but just keep in mind that outdated software will show in Red, and software that's already up to date will show in Green. You can scroll through the list of suggested updates in the left column and uncheck any items that you do not want to update. Patch My PC works on Windows 7 and higher.
Ninite is a similar tool for software updates. It doesn't scan your system for outdated software, but instead focuses on simplifying the process of downloading, installing and updating your programs. Ninite bundles software installers and updates into a single, foistware-free package. Just check boxes next to the programs that you want to install or update, click “Get Your Ninite” and Ninite does the rest.
It fetches the latest files from the vendor websites, bundles them in a Ninite installer package, and downloads just one file to your computer. When the Ninite installer is run, it installs and/or updates everything in the background, stripping the foistware out of each. And my favorite part, it eliminates all the Next, Next, Next button clicking during the installation.
Aside from the fact that Ninite does not identify software in need of updates, there's one other issue to be aware of. The free web version of Ninite lets you easily select and install software, but there is no mechanism to keep things automatically updated. You must remember to re-run the installer that Ninite creates for you. To solve that problem, you can download the Ninite Updater ($10/year) which runs on your computer and automates the process of checking for and installing the updates. Ninite works on Windows 7 and higher.
Other Software Updaters
In my research for this article, I came across a few other free software updaters that seemed promising, but didn't quite make the cut. Ucheck was one of those, which claims to support hundreds of programs. I downloaded UCheck and it scanned my system quickly to see if updates were needed for any installed programs. It found several, but not all the ones that Patch My PC identified. On the plus side, it did find find a few that Patch My PC didn't flag. One thing it flagged was an older version of Zoom, but when I tried to update it, the only option available was to download the update, find the download, and install it manually. It also grabbed the 32-bit version, when I had the 64-bit version installed. UCheck downloaded and installed an update for Notepad++, but it takes you through all the installation steps (Next, Next, Next...) instead of silently updating. With UCheck, updating is a two-step process. You need to click the Download link for a program, wait for the download to complete, then click the Install link.
If you want the ability to click and auto-update, you must upgrade to the Premium version, which costs $13/year. UCheck Premium does scheduled scans, can install new software, and has PUP Protection. PUPs are "potentially unwanted programs", also known as foistware. (Patch My PC strips out foistware in the free version.)
SUMo (Software Update Monitor) is another program that was brought to my attention by an AskBob reader. Developed and supported by the French firm, KC Softwares, SUMo does an impressive job of scanning your installed software for any needed updates. It identified several programs that Patch My PC and UCheck didn't flag for updates. SUMo uses color coding to indicate if a needed update is major (red) or minor (orange). Unfortunately, the free version (SUMo-Lite) is effectively demo-ware; it will show you what needs updating but won’t update anything. When you click to update, it loads a web page that offers you the option to upgrade to SUMo Pro ($29) or search online for the needed update. A related app, DUMo, is KC Softwares’ Driver Update Monitor. (More on driver updates later.)
Some anti-malware suites include software updaters as well. The Avast software updater is one example.
What About Device Drivers?
Device drivers, more commonly called "drivers," are small programs that act as translators between your operating system and the hardware devices it uses. Every hardware device needs a driver. Your printer, scanner, mouse, keyboard, hard drive, graphics card and network adapter are all examples of devices that require a software driver in order to respond to commands from the operating system. For example, when you hit the Print button, Windows issues the generic command "print," and a device driver translates that command into the specific instructions needed to enable your Dell computer communicate with your Epson printer.
I'll keep this simple -- you do not need a third-party driver updater. Windows Update handles typically the task of updating drivers, pushing them out to users when hardware vendors make them available. Some devices have built-in driver update features that download from the vendor's website. The only time I've ever needed to manually update a device driver is when upgrading to a new version of the Windows operating system, and some hardware device was not working properly. See my article [TIP] Time to Update Your Drivers? to learn more about manual device driver updates, and the potential pitfalls of using third-party device driver updaters.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 14 Apr 2022
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Here's Why You Must Keep Your Software Updated (and how to do it for free) (Posted: 14 Apr 2022)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved