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How to automate Windows software updates

When it comes to automating Windows software updates, administrators have a choice of several third-party tools.

Software now updates itself through a network connection instead of relying on the user to update the system. The most obvious implementation of this is Windows' automatic updates feature, which periodically checks with Microsoft to see if there are updated versions of system components or critical bug fixes available.

However, this mechanism only patches Windows itself; it doesn't alert the user if there are existing upgrades for other programs in the system. Even Microsoft Office can't be updated through Windows Updates; it is typically updated through the Office Update Web site.

Third-party programs are becoming self-updating as well. For instance, the Web browser Firefox can sense if a newer version exists and updates itself as needed. That begs the question: What about programs that don't have this capacity? What can do you if you don't want to be bothered with updating programs yourself?

There is yet no industry standard for automated software updates (most program developers prefer to use their own implementation of the concept), so third-party companies have had to step in and provide their own solutions.

One solution is VersionTracker Pro, a subscription service run by The site, which originally offered software updates for Macintosh software, then expanded to include Windows and even Palm OS, keeps tabs on the latest versions of almost every program imaginable -- commercial, shareware and freeware. The VersionTracker Pro service lets you install an agent on up to 10 computers which periodically scans installed software on the system. It matches what it finds against any updated versions in the VersionTracker database and automates software updates if there's a newer version.

The local publishing functionality of FLEXnet is similar to Microsoft's own Systems Management Server 2003, although FLEXNet Publisher can work side by side with that system and provides advantages of its own (such as elective updates). For workgroups with no server, these solutions are likely to be overkill (or wholly undeployable), but if you're moving toward running a server in your network and more closely managing the desktops in it, they're worth looking into.

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About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Insight, (formerly the Windows Power Users Newsletter), a blog site devoted to hints, tips, tricks and news for users and administrators of Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Vista. He has more than 12 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to and


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