You probably use Microsoft Windows Update to download security updates and patches for your Windows PC but there are reasons why this Microsoft service may not be enough.
1. If you have multiple computers, you need to download the same updates separately on each of them – this is fine for broadband users who don’t have to pay per byte but could be an issue for metered connections.
2. Not every computer at your home may be connected to the Internet – you therefore need an offline setup to update such machines.
3. The Microsoft update service will help you find patches for Windows and other Microsoft-only software (e.g. Microsoft Office) but you need something else for the zillion other software programs and hardware drivers on your computer.
Alternatives to Windows Update
Finding and plugging holes can be an arduous task for home users so here are a couple of software utilities that will can keep applications installed on your Windows PC patched and up-to-date without requiring too much effort.
Secunia Online Inspector: This is the browser-based vanilla offering that scans a user’s PC for the most commonly used applications (e.g., Firefox, Adobe Reader, iTunes, etc.) and recommends patches based on the results of that scan. The OSI service runs completely inside the browser via a digitally signed Java applet, which makes it far more trustworthy than other alternatives.
Personal Software Inspector: Ready to step up? PSI (from Secunia again) is far more fully featured and will undertake a deep scan of your machine to notify you of all out-of-date software title that might pose a security risk. Products that have reached the end of the developer’s rated life are also indicated so you’ll know when it’s time to really upgrade from Winzip 7 to something newer and better. Secunia PSI is thoughtfully laid out with two separate interfaces for the novice user as well as for those of us more comfortable with the nitty-gritty of patching and keeping our PCs up-to-date.
The software works by examining executable files (like .exe and .dll files) on your computer’s hard drive and matches this data with their own to determine the exact applications installed on your system. Thus you get a report of the missing security related updates for your system.
Although, the software inspector doesn’t offer the convenience of running within your browser, it does a far more thorough job at scanning your PC and listing software that are out of date. The advanced mode is not overly complicated, even though it is a touch cluttered – reasonably large icons point out the solutions and download links to the latest stable version of the software that is deemed to be at risk:
What I especially like is the ability to see at a glance, the level of risk as detailed by the multi-colored bars indicating the risk involved. There’s also the option of excluding certain directories from being scanned, which helps, if like me you have older versions located in directories on other partitions for use during dual-boot sessions.
In my tests, however, there were a few problems with the PSI’s ability to detect the version of the Java Runtime Environment with multiple listings being displayed in the PSI as well as in my Add/Remove Programs applet. This was solved by removing all existing versions and installing afresh from Sun’s website.
Shavlik Google Gadget: Derived from its highly successful NetChk Pro series of patch management software, Shavlik have prepared a gadget that runs exclusively on Google Desktop and can help you find unpatched applications installed on your PC.
At times, rated by security experts as being better and more accurate than other solutions, one of the major drawbacks is that Shavlik’s introductory product requires Google Desktop to be installed.
FileHippo Checker : This software scans your PC for applications to see if there are any newer releases. It will then redirect you to the site where the installers are mirrored. FileHippo requires the .NET framework 2.0 to work but it at least has a run-only version that needs no installation.
RadarSync Updater: While FileHippo will help you discover if any new versions of your software have been released by the vendor, RadarSync can also find updates for your computer hardware (device drivers) like the sound card or your network adapter. And they have a dedicated section for Windows 7 drivers already.
While the free version of RadarSync will only generate a report of outdated hardware drivers on your machine, you need a premium account to actually download them on to the system. Or you can simple copy the latest version of the driver displayed in the RadarSync report, paste that in Google and download the driver directly from the manufacturer’s website.
WU Downloader – If you like to download security updates for your Windows or Office programs without using Microsoft Update,try this free utility called Windows Update Downloader. Just specify the Windows OS (supports both XP and Vista) and the program will download all security updates that are available on the Microsoft for you OS.
This could be a good option if you want to install the same patches on multiple computers or even for slipstreaming though I am not sure if this works with patches that require the mandatory Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) check.
By Shahrzaad M Parekh.