VersionTracker Pro 4.0.1, by VersionTracker.com
Posted: 31-Mar-2006

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: VersionTracker.com Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: SERVICE
     
$49.95 for one year    

Overview
Most everyone is already aware of the
VersionTracker.com web site, one of the most useful web sites for finding freeware, shareware, and updates (generally anything that is freely downloadable). When I'm looking for a freeware or shareware utility to do something, this is the first place I look.

How often do I have the time to browse VersionTracker to find updates for all of my software? I don't have much free time as it is, but given the hundreds of software titles I own, browsing for updates would be a full day's task. Doing that on a regular basis? Not gonna happen.

But still, it would be nice to stay current. The more software you own, the more tedious the task is to constantly check for updates manually. The people at VersionTracker.com provide a solution. For less than $5 a month ($49.95 for a year), you can sign up for VersionTracker Pro, a service and client package that allows you to automatically monitor and update all of your software using a client application.

The web site states, "
VersionTracker Pro gives you an automated, simple and cost-effective way to inventory and keep all your software current and secure... big IT department not required."

Listed features include

  • Stay current - be notified of performance and feature upgrades to your software as soon as they are released.
  • Multiple Mac support - one subscription covers up to 3 Macs (10 computer license available).
  • Satisfaction guaranteed - 30-day no-questions-asked money-back guarantee.
  • Proven technology - VersionTracker has been a leader in the Mac community since 1996.

How it Works
VersionTracker (VT) provides a variety of services. The basic web site is free, and provides a powerful search engine and a comprehensive listing of nearly every Mac software title available. You can freely search and download through the web site.

By creating a free account, you can receive daily or weekly e-mail summaries of all the new releases posted to the site. I find this useful just to see what titles are out there. On the other hand, the sheer volume of information can be overwhelming. Looking for a specific title can be like finding a needle in a haystack.

VersionTracker Pro is a paid upgrade that extends the features of the web site as well as giving you access to the VersionTracker Pro client application.

On the web, you can customize your VersionTracker home page and set up e-mail alerts when your favorite titles are updated. There is a download cart, one-click download, and advanced search capabilities. VT Pro users select the "My Tools" tab on the web site to access their advanced tools. Under My Tools, you can click on Alert List, Download Cart, Installed Software/Watch List, Report Center, and Computer List.


VersionTracker Pro - Web Site "My Tools"


The Alert List lets you setup special alerts on specific software titles. You can be alerted when the product is updated, reviewed, etc., and receive the alerts on a schedule of your choosing. Also with VT Pro, you have the option to add downloads to your download cart rather than instantly starting the download. This can be preferable if you want to just "flag" the software for download, but continue on looking for other titles without having to go through the download screen. When you are ready to download, you click on Download Cart under My Tools, and the titles you have flagged for downloading will be listed there, ready to be downloaded when you want.

The Installed Software tool is one of the more interesting web tools available to Pro users. To activate this tool you have to install the VT Pro client application. Once the client is installed, all the software on your computer is scanned in, and your computer is automatically added to your "Computer List" under VT Pro. The Installed Software list then reflects all of the software titles on your computer. It shows you the installed versions as well as the latest version of the software available on VT, along with release dates and sizes. From that list, you can pick and choose which titles you want to download, either immediately or added to your Download Cart.

One of the newer tools under My Tools is the Report Center. Here you can specify a report to be created based upon some simple criteria. You can:

  1. View installed product lists for your computers
  2. Find available updates for installed products
  3. Compare computers


VersionTracker Pro - My Tools - Report Center

You can then export this report in HTML, CSV, Tabbed, or Excel Table formats. The VT Pro subscription service allows you to associate up to 3 Macs to your account. I use all three slots, and it's great to be able to compare in a quick and easy report all the software across these computers.


Example of VersionTracker Pro website report

The other nice web feature of the VT Pro service is the Advance Search capabilities. Everyone is able to do a simple search for a software title, but the advanced search provides a lot more options (such as multiple platforms, freeware, shareware, etc., categories, and release dates).

Some of you may already recognize many of these features from the
VersionTracker Plus review. It appears that VersionTracker Plus is no longer offered as a subscription option, but all of its features (and then some) were incorporated into the VT Pro subscription. For a more detailed description of these extended web features, check out the VT Plus review. While these features are definitely nice to have, they may not be enough for most people to want to pay for the privilege to use them. The real gem of the VT Pro subscription is the VT Pro client itself.

The Client
The VT Pro client application is a stand alone application that runs on your Mac. When you first start it, it scans all of your hard drives for all of the applications that reside on your computer. The first thing that will amaze you is just how many applications you have! I probably have more applications than the average user, but I never imagined I had as many as the VT Pro client presented. You'll want to use the preferences to limit the scan to only the disks your primary applications are stored on (e.g., if you have backup volumes, you'll want to turn those off so that you don't get duplicates of everything). Even with scanning only your main disks, you will probably notice that you have duplicate applications that you weren't aware of, as well as different versions of the same app. VT Pro is very helpful at finding applications and outdated versions that you don't use anymore.

You'll also notice a lot of entries in the list for bundles, preferences, plug-ins, and other programs that you commonly don't think about. In same cases you may wish to track the versions of these oddities, but in most cases, I didn't really care (e.g., I don't need to track Microsoft Component Plug-in since I'm already tracking the primary Microsoft Office apps). To remove the items you don't care about, simply click on the title, and press Cmd-Delete to remove it from the list.

Each time you launch VT Pro, it automatically does a version check and displays a translucent window (similar to Apple's Cmd-Tab window) that displays the updates that have occurred since the last update check. The very first time you launch, this window includes every application you have, so it's a bit crazy (in my case, there was so many that the size of the icons were too small to distinguish). Subsequent launches provided a more reasonable looking update window.


VT Pro Updates window

During this review, I upgraded from VT Pro 3.5 to 4.0.1. In the prior versions, there were three tabs at the top of the VT Pro client window: Watch List, Daily Updates, and Search. With VT Pro 4.0.1, those tabs are no longer present, and when I start VT Pro, it displays an "Available Updates" list. There are also two included watch lists called "Main Progs" and "Installed".


VersionTracker Pro - Watch List

The Watch list is a list of all your software titles, along with the version you have installed, the latest version of the software according to VerstionTracker, the type of software (e.g., application, preference pane, etc.), the Mac OS it supports (X means OS X only, and X/9 means it can run native in both OS X and OS 9), and the license type (freeware, shareware, etc.). To help highlight versions that you are behind on, the versions that are not current are displayed in red and sorted to the top. Versions that are up-to-date are in black, and sorted to the bottom.

For example, you may have only changed some preferences and want the server versions updated accordingly, and you know that no new software has been installed. Clicking on Check For Updates always starts by scanning your hard drive. Re-scanning the hard drives in this case becomes a needless and timeconsuming task to wait for. VT Pro does provide an option to limit the number of volumes it does scan. Using the Scanning options, you can turn off volumes which may be backup volumes.

The VT Pro window has an adjustable pane at the bottom of the window that displays information about the item highlighted in the list. The information displays here is the information you would see if you viewed the product on the VersionTracker.com web site.

VT Pro 4 also has an adjustable pane to the left which provides a variety of watch lists, as well as an Alert list, New Software, and Search Results. This appears to have replaced the old tabs of VT Pro 3.5, with some added gusto, but also with some real estate issues. Customizing your watch lists is definitely useful for handling a lot of software titles. You may find far too many titles listed in VT Pro that you really care about. You can refine the list by using Cmd-Delete to remove a title from your watch list. You can also create alternate watch lists, allowing you to organize the type of software in any way that suits your needs. For example, you could create a separate watch list for just your Adobe products. The problem I have with the new watch list pane is that it takes up too much of the window's real estate. The pane can be toggled off by sliding the vertical knob to the left, but when the pane is not showing, you are blind-sided in terms of not always knowing which watch list is in effect.

At the top of the VT Pro window is the main toolbar, and a search field for searching the VersionTracker.com web site. The toolbar includes buttons for Download, Install, Skip Version, Inspect, Check For Updates, Stop, and Report. The search field allows you to perform a speedy VersionTracker search, similar to the search you might do on the web browser. The searches seemed faster to me using the VT Pro client than using the Safari web browser.


VT Pro Search Results

As shown in the example above, a search string of "morgana" was entered, resulting with the find of Excalibur: Morgana's Revenge (EMR). It provides all of the useful information that the web site would provide during a search. The one thing about the search which tripped me up, however, is that the search behaves differently depending upon which watch list is in effect, and the associated preference settings for that watch list. There is an Updates preference option that allows you to ignore beta and pre-release updates. I have that checked for my Main Progs watch list, but unchecked for my Installed watch list. Since EMR is listed as beta currently, when I clicked on the Main Progs watch list and did the search, EMR didn't show up in the results. After switching to the Installed watch list, VT Pro does find EMR. As mentioned earlier, I don't like the real estate that the Watch Lists pane takes up, so I normally have it off. When I first did the search on "morgana", it confused me because I fully expected the results to show up. By opening up the pane, I could see that the Main Progs watch list was in effect, which explained the lack of results.

The Download button is arguably the most useful button in the toolbar. This is the very first button on the left, and clicking on the button activates the download for the item currently highlighted. You click on the software title, then click on the Download button, and in most cases, the VT Pro client immediately starts the download for the product, and displays a VT Pro download window. After the download, VT Pro can also unpack and even attempt to install, depending upon your preference settings.


VT Pro download window

The download window is similar to the Safari download window, showing the name of the file being downloaded, the progress, and a stop button to cancel the download. I prefer the big stop icon of VT Pro over the small little "x" in Safari. However, I did notice a problem with the download scrolling. The window does not properly update the scroll position after the window is filled up and new downloads are activated. In the screenshot above, I had started another download after the "fruitmenu" download, and although it did get added to the list, it is out of view. You have to manually scroll down to see it. It should have automatically displayed it similar to how Safari's download window works.

It's always nice to have the updates immediately downloaded. For example, I had iPod Access v3.2, and the latest was version 3.8. By clicking on download, the latest version was automatically downloaded as a zip file, and then unzipped for me. In some cases, however, VT Pro launches your web browser and pulls up the vendor web site instead. For example, I have DropStuff 9.0.1, and the latest is 10.0.2. When I click on the Download button for that title, instead of downloading the software, it takes me to the vendor's web site. The instant downloads are far more convenient, as vendor web sites usually require confusing navigation as well as jumping through a few hoops to get what you want. The immediate downloads are also easier to locate (see next paragraph). Of course, it's up to the vendor whether they are going to provide the instant download link; hence, if VT Pro doesn't download it directly, it's most likely because the vendor does not allow it.

What I really like about downloading from the client is that you don't have to fumble with your web browser (the download is direct, does not launch your browser), and the download is stored in a place that makes it easy to find. For those that remember Mac OS 9, when you downloaded files from the web, no matter what the original date was on the source file, the date of the downloaded file becomes the current date. This meant that you could sort your downloads folder by descending date order, and see what you've downloaded recently. In OS X, however, the original date of the source file is retained, so sorting by date does not help distinguish files recently downloaded. If you do a lot of web surfing like I do, this amounts to chaos and frustration when trying to find a downloaded file (since the date sort doesn't help, and download names are often not what you might expect). When downloading via the VT Pro client, however, these downloads are stored in their own special folder, so it at least isolates them from all the other things you download from the web, making it easier to locate and install the updates.

Next to the Download button is an Install button. For most titles, this option is disabled, but now and then, the button activates. This is based upon whether or not the software vendor provides an automatic installation script with the download. For instance, Apple's Airport Utility update and Bare Bone's BBEdit update both provided the Install option. Clicking on the Install button is an all-in-one operation. It immediately downloads the software, unpacks it, and installs it in one single step. All vendors should support this option, as it is really a nice time saver.

VT Pro does provide a Download preference, "Allow installation of untested items", that enables the Install button for more titles. With this option on, VT Pro makes a best guess at how to install the item after it downloads (whether running an installer or simply dragging the application from a mounted volume to your Applications folder). In most cases, I found this to work just fine, but there are a couple of gotcha's. When I updated DragThing, it quit my current DragThing without prompting me (I noticed that when I went to drag something to my desktop trash which only exists courtesy of DragThing). Sometimes the attempt simply fails, as was the case when VT Pro attempted to install the Cocktail update. For failed attempts, VT Pro does provide a message dialog, triggering you to perform the update manually. One thing I did notice that I really liked is that for updates that use the Apple Installer program and require a reboot, when VT Pro runs the installer script, it allows you to close the window without having to restart (using the Apple Installer program, you have to Force Quit if you want to perform other installations before restarting).

The Skip Version button allows you to ignore the version update for a title. This is different from the Cmd-Delete function in that it doesn't remove the title from the list. Rather, it just flags it as blue, and therefore sorts it after all of the "behind" versions (red), but before the "up-to-date" versions (black). In most cases, using Cmd-Delete to remove titles or flagging the watch list for only Paid Updates was all I needed. However, there were some titles where I preferred to ignore the current version update. This will put the title back in my "hot" (red) list the next time a new update comes out.

The Inspect button can be used to view specific attributes about each of the titles as you click on them. It opens an "Inspector" window that changes as you select different titles. The Inspector displays the location of the application, version, type, creator, Bundle ID, and also provides URL's for the versiontracker web page for the product as well as a download link.


The VersionTracker Pro Inspector



The Check For Updates button tells VT Pro re-scan your hard drive and re-check the VersionTracker server and see if there are any new version updates since the last check.


Preferences for setting update automatic software checks

Checking for updates can be automated and configured using the VT Pro Updates preferences. Using preferences, you can tell VT Pro how often to perform these checks automatically. The Check For Updates button simply lets you trigger a check manually on-the-fly. The associated Stop button allows you to interrupt a check.

One option that is missing is the ability to only check the versions as reported by VersionTracker.com without re-scanning the hard drive. For example, you may have only changed some preferences and want the server versions updated accordingly, and you know that no new software has been installed. Clicking on Check For Updates always starts by scanning your hard drive. Re-scanning the hard drives in this case becomes a needless and timeconsuming task to wait for. VT Pro does provide an option to limit the number of volumes it does scan. Using the Scanning options, you can turn off volumes which may be backup volumes.


VT Pro Scanning preferences


VT Pro 4 also includes a "Report" button that allows you to report any problems you see with version listings. Sometimes versions and/or software titles may not look right, and you can use this button to bring the problem to the attention of VersionTracker support personnel.

Automatic version checking is a time saver, and it's extremely helpful to visually see all the versions you are behind on. There were a few titles, however, where I would have preferred to have the option to limit the version check. For example, I have Adobe After Effects 6.5. Not too long ago, the latest version listed for it was 6.5.1 which is a free update to 6.5. However, I didn't get around to downloading it at the time. The latest version VT Pro shows is now 7.0, which is a paid upgrade, but I'm only interested in the free updates.

VT Pro 4 does provide a nice Updates preference option for "Don't Show Paid Updates", but with mixed results. It doesn't always show the last free update for the version that you own. Using this option, After Effects showed 6.5 as both my current version and the latest version. I would have preferred to see 6.5.1 since that was the last free version update before it jumped to a paid upgrade. Some titles, such as FileMaker Pro (7.0v1), did show free version updates (7.0v3) even though the very latest is a paid upgrade (8.0). Oddly, the VersionTracker web site does show the 6.5.1 update for After Effects, so I don't know why VT Pro only shows 6.5 with the "Don't Show Paid Updates" option on.

I also had some clicking issues with the VT Pro window. For instance, once I started clicking on the column labels to change the sort (such as sorting by "Name"), I couldn't figure out how to get back to sorting with out-of-date versions at the top. None of the column labels provided that sort. There is also an interface glitch where if you double-click on a column label, it actually launches your web browser and goes to the title that is highlighted in the watch list. I would expect that for double-clicking on the title, but not from double-clicking on the column label. The biggest glitch that got me, however, is that when I was trying to figure out how to get the software to sort by color again, I tried out the "Reset Watch List" menu option while viewing my Installed watch list. Without a prompt, without warning, this feature obliterated my watch list! This happened right after I made a bunch of updates, so I was very frustrated. The window stayed blank, even after I did a "Check for Updates". I clicked on my Main Progs watch list, and a little bit later I clicked on Installed watch list again, and the list came back. I have no idea what the Reset did... which leads me to the next topic...

Documentation
The VT Pro client downloads as a single application with no read me file and no user's manual. There is an option under the client Help menu for VersionTracker Pro help, but all it does is redirect you to the
VT Pro web site FAQ. The FAQ only provided a limited number of questions and answers, none of which were helpful to me. I could not find any documentation in the client or on the web that describes all the features and inner workings of the VT Pro client.

How it Rates
VT Pro makes it spectacularly easy to monitor, manage and maintain your software titles at a glance, and at the push of a button. The interface is very Mac savvy, and I especially like the way it segregates downloads into it's own folder (separated from the chaos of daily downloads from the web). I found the client easier and faster to use than a web browser, and the VT Pro features included in both the client and web site are very nice indeed. The question becomes whether it is worth the $50 per year price of admission. The answer to that question will most likely be different for different users, based upon software library, need, and pocket book. I own a lot of software, and I don't have a lot of time for keeping my software up-to-date. In that regard, VT Pro saves me a lot of time by automating the version checks, downloads and installations. VT Pro make the process so easy, that it actually encourages me to update software, whereas in the past I would have been very lax in performing the updates. VT Pro truly makes the task of keeping your Mac software up-to-date a painlessly simple task.

Summary
VersionTracker Pro is a premiere service offered by VersionTracker.com that provides the user with some useful tools for managing their Mac software. Pro users get some nifty and useful features unlocked on the VersionTracker web site, including a more powerful search tool, download carts, alert lists, computer watch lists, and more. VT Pro also provides a powerful Mac client that performs all of the features available on the web, and then some. The VT Pro client scans your hard drive for all your software, and streamlines the process of checking for updates against the VersionTracker database. It provides sortable and customizable watch lists that makes keeping tracking of your software simple and straightforward. The VT Pro toolbar lets you keep your software up-to-date at a push of a button. The client includes a lot of options for customizing the experience for different users. The client is also integrated with the VT web site (i.e., once you run the client, your software titles can also be viewed from the web site on any computer). There were a few minor quirks with the client interface, as well as some inconsistencies on finding and installing the latest free updates. If you don't have a lot of software titles, then using the free VersionTracker.com web site features may be all that you really need. However, for those that have a fair amount of software titles on their Mac and like to stay up-to-date, manually creating a watch list is an untenable task. VT Pro is a wonderful utility for creating that watch list for you automatically, eliminating the mayhem out of managing your software updates.

Pros

  • Automatically shows all applications that have updates
  • Helps locate programs you don't use anymore
  • Segregated downloads folder
  • Single button download, unpack and install operation
  • Customizable watch lists makes it easy to keep your software titles updated


Cons

  • Paid service may not have much value for those that have few software titles
  • Client has some interface quirks and inconsistencies
  • No way to update watch list versions without also re-scanning hard drives
  • Does not always show the latest "free" version updates after major version updates
  • No users manual or features documentation


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice