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
- 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
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
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:
- View installed product
lists for your computers
- Find available updates
for installed products
- 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 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
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
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
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...
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.
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
- Automatically shows all
applications that have updates
- Helps locate programs
you don't use anymore
- Segregated downloads
- Single button download,
unpack and install operation
- Customizable watch lists
makes it easy to keep your software titles updated
- 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
4 out of 5 Mice