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At least 112 programs are installed on my computer and for 29 of them an update is available. Looking through these 29, I would say that I use around two thirds of them on a regular basis, and I did know some of them required an update.

Frankly, when I boot a program I can’t be bothered with updates, which is why I was still running old versions of FileZilla and Winamp for quite some time.

UpdateStar provides a quick and easy way to check all installed programs on your system for updates. It covers freeware, shareware, demos, and commercial software.

The strength and the weakness of this tool is that it relies on the community of users to add information and download links to the database, and to rate offered updates. This opens the door for fraud or misunderstandings. One would hope that all information would be double checked by the people maintaining the database at UpdateStar, but as they are only human, mistakes are sure to happen.

For example, I’m using a tool called CheckDrive to monitor hard disk errors and fragmentation. UpdateStar suggested an update which lead me to a program called Check&Drive or ChecknDrive, which is a vehicle maintenance software. Well, I don’t even own a car, so that wasn’t helpful. So what I did was send an update with the correct information and links, and I’m looking forward to seeing when UpdateStar will correct the error.

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Another example are links to pages where you can buy the latest updates for commercial software. Following the CorelDraw download link I was sent to the Corel homepage, which is how it should work. The Microsoft Office Pro 2003 download however linked to Amazon.ca, which isn’t helpful since I’m not in Canada, not even close. UpdateStar may send you to their partner sites, which is how they finance the free service. But this may not be the best or cheapest option for you, if any option at all.

Now, I didn’t run into any obvious scams. Nevertheless, this is beta software and it does rely on user input, so in using it, it does require some common sense. UpdateStar doesn’t automatically download and install updates, you still need to do that manually. Follow the provided link, select the download on the respective website and finally run the installation. What can be set to run automatically is the daily, weekly or monthly search for updates. However, it will only work if the program is already running.

Also, UpdateStar does not recognize all programs. Avira AntiVir for example left it clueless, it didn’t even list which version I was running. Even though it’s correct that updates for many commercial programs such as PhotoImpact, EndNote or Tunebite are available, I’m not interested in purchasing them. Luckily, you can choose to ignore them simply by removing a checkmark.

Taken together, it’s clear that there is room for improvement. The time this tool saves you by acting as a central platform to keep your software up to date, is redeemed when you start to correct errors, add information and overall contribute to its growth. However, all of this is optional. What is clearly missing is an option to manually submit details about installed software the program did not list in the first place. The FAQ states that “UpdateStar uses a learning software database. If your program is not yet recognized by UpdateStar, then it is already marked for inclusion. Due to the high number of available software products world-wide, this may take a few days. In a short while UpdateStar should also recognize your program.” Does this sound rather cryptic to your ears as well? We will see.

There are some alternatives to UpdateStar.

AppGet didn’t impress me much with the latest version being of September 14th, 2007. Then the whole interface isn’t appealing at all, but it did count 81 available updates in my 172 applications. It listed all Windows Hotfixes and found some programs I thought I had uninstalled, and I guess that’s why the numbers differ so grossly.

For many, many programs such as Office 2003 or FileZilla, no URLs were available, instead a Google search was suggested. Since download links do exist and users can submit these links and some suggested “latest versions” are in fact not the latest, it’s my guess that this community is not up to date at all.

I used UpdateStar to uninstall the program. :)

FileHippo’s Update Checker seems to be the better alternative. It’s a very simple tool with limited options. You run the program manually, it scans the system and then opens a browser window listing all software for which FileHippo can provide updates. In my case it detected 11 updates and 3 beta updates.

The obvious drawback is that it’s not only simple, it’s also not very thorough and doesn’t allow user feedback. Additionally, it requires Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 installed on your computer.

Do you know of any better alternatives? Please comment and share!

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