During the early days of Windows, the operating system was usually the direct target of most malware creators. Along the way, Microsoft has worked a lot on hardening the operating system by creating and delivering security patches to its users in as timely a manner they possibly could. Today, Windows is becoming more and more secure and therefore it forces malware creators to shift their focus on finding and using vulnerabilities for popular Windows applications. As such, it becomes very important to keep all your installed applications up-to-date if you want to have a secure computing experience. So, is there a single app that can automatically search for all the available updates? Our analysis aims to answer this question and show you which tools are good for this particular task.
The Software Update Checkers We Tested
Even though there are plenty of options available, we tried our best to pick a mix that includes both popular and efficient programs in this particular niche. We ended up testing the following tools: Appupdater 2.2, FileHippo App Manager 2.0, Ninite 4.5.2, Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI) 3.0, Software Informer Client 1.4, Software Update Monitor (SUMo) 3.14 and Heimdal Free 1.10.3.
The Applications We Used For Testing
In order to test the effectiveness of the products that are meant to keep our applications up-to-date, we chose a mix of popular software used for the most common computing tasks: 7-Zip 9.20 (64-Bit edition), Adobe Reader 10.1.0, Adobe Flash Player 188.8.131.52, CCleaner 4.19.4867, Oracle Java 7.0.79 (64 Bit), VLC 2.1.0 (32 bit), K-Lite Codec Pack Full 10.90, Adobe Shockwave Player 184.108.40.206, Mozilla Thunderbird 37.0 beta 1, PDFCreator 1.7.3, Virtual CloneDrive 5.4.5, Ashampoo Burning Studio 12.0.5, MiniTool Partition Wizard Home Edition 8.11, FileZilla 3.10.3, Mozilla Firefox 38.0.5, LibreOffice 220.127.116.11 and VirtualBox 4.3.26.
As you can see, the versions we used for this test are not the latest ones available for each of these applications.
We made sure to include some of the most vulnerable software for Windows: Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Shockwave Player and Oracle Java. The usefulness of Software Update Monitors (SUMs) is proven by the fact that they help in keeping applications which are frequent targets for malware creators and distributors up-to-date and thus provide a more secure system.
The Testing Procedure
First, we installed all the applications used for testing and, of course, the applications which we were about to test. Before taking any other action, we created a system restore point, to make sure we could revert back our system when it was necessary.
Each of the applications was evaluated by using the following criteria:
- How many application updates were detected by each monitoring program for the software we used for testing.
- How many application updates each of the tested programs detected for the 4 most vulnerable Windows programs we mentioned in the previous section.
- If the monitoring programs are able to run during Windows Startup and scan automatically for updates.
- If the programs we tested are able to do automated downloads of the updates they identified.
- If they are able to automatically install the updates they have just identified.
- If they allow the user to add custom locations to scan for installed applications.
Important Information To Be Considered Beforehand
Our tests revealed some important facts about how these applications perform:
- Checking for updates is done against a list of programs that is being actively maintained by the developers of each program. Updating this list on a continuous basis involves a lot of effort. This means that there is no program able to detect updates for all the applications you have installed on your computer.
- In theory, if a program is provided by a large website with downloads for almost every piece of software you can think of, it should have the biggest update detection rate. However, this is not always the case.
- Most vendors will try to monetize their applications either by bundling unwanted software (such as toolbars) with their setup programs, or by making you download updates from websites with lots of ads. Therefore, it is very important that you pay attention during the installation process.
- Most programs can only notify you of available updates. Very few have features for downloading and installing updates automatically.
- No free application is able to automatically install updates for all applications. There will always be exceptions for which you need to do manual installations. The most common example of an application requiring manual update installations is Adobe Reader.
- When choosing to do automated installations of updates (in the applications that provide this feature), pay attention to the applications for which you allow this. You will get silent installations using the default options. This means that you can get additional unwanted software installed on your computer, together with the update. It is best to use this feature only for applications which do not bundle things you do not want.
Appupdater - is a personal project maintained by an enthusiast. In order to keep things manageable for a single person, Appupdater uses a small list of free applications to keep track of updates. Anything that is not included in the above mentioned list will simply be ignored by Appupdater. If you happen to use many of the applications it keeps track of, this program is a reasonable choice as it provides support for automated download and installation of updates. Still, be careful because the automated installation works only for some applications. As we have already mentioned, if you are trying to update Adobe Reader, you need to do a manual installation, after the download is completed by Appupdater.
One aspect we found worrying is that Appupdater had weak results even for some applications included in its watchlist. For example, it was not able to detect updates for 7-Zip, Java, Thunderbird and VLC, even though these applications are found on the official list of Supported Applications.
FileHippo App Manager is a small and lightweight application. It's based upon an older program, FileHippo Update Checker, but, unlike the older version, Appmanager will handle downloads and installations for you. It detected updates for almost all of our installed software and it seems to be very well connected to FileHippo's application database. Also, we really appreciated the fact that it provided updates for all of the more vulnerable Windows applications.
Other characteristics that make it stand out are: it can show beta versions available for your applications, allows you to add custom locations to scan for programs and updates, it can be scheduled to do daily scans at a given time and it can be set to close itself when no updates are found, thus freeing the few resources it uses.