Ninite Pro Simplifies Java Updates

by Joseph Moran

Add Ninite Pro to your small business security tool box. It takes the pain out of keeping computer software secure and up-to-date.

When it comes to small business security, protecting computers from malware attacks isn’t as simple as installing anti-virus (AV) software and calling it a day. Having AV software is a good first step, but it’s also crucial that you keep all of your installed software up-to-date. Otherwise, it could harbor known security vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit.

The sheer ubiquity of certain utilities makes them juicy targets for the bad guys. Oracle’s Java, Adobe Flash, and Adobe Reader all fall into this category, and it’s especially important to keep them up-to-date. The need was recently underscored by the theft of Adobe Acrobat source code (not to mention info on almost 3 million customers).

Updating this kind of stuff on even a handful of PCs is cumbersome, and doing it on dozens, scores, or hundreds of PCs is a colossal chore, which is why many small businesses don’t update as often as they should (or at all).  In fact, we recently suggested the possibility of uninstalling Java for businesses without the time or resources to keep up with the security updates (which for a while were seemingly issued on a weekly basis).

While there are plenty of ways to automate software updates on a corporate network—Active Directory Group Policy and various network patch management tools come to mind—most are too complicated, pricey, or both, for many small businesses to seriously consider.

An Easier Way to Update Java

Say hello to Ninite Pro, a utility/service that makes updating Java, Flash, and Reader—as well as 100+ other apps—on a large number of machines simple and quick. And although it’s not free, the cost is reasonable considering it lets you remotely complete all of your updates in minutes rather than the hours or days it could take to perform them manually.  

Ninite Pro; easily update Java

Figure 1: Ninite Pro can remotely update PCs from a list of more than 100 different apps.

Ninite Pro is a subscription service that’s priced depending on how many PCs you need to update. It costs $20 per month for up to 100 PCs, $50 for 101-250 computers, and higher tiers are available once you hot or exceed the 500 mark. You can pay annually rather than monthly, but there’s no price break. The only benefit: you get one bill a year instead of twelve. There’s also a 1-week trial available so you can put Ninite Pro through its paces before you shell out any cash.

How to Use Ninite Pro

It’s important to note that you don’t need to install Ninite Pro on all your PCs. In fact you don’t need to install it on any PCs; simply download it onto one computer on your network, create a folder for it in a suitable location, and then run it directly from there.

For Ninite to work properly, you need to give it the appropriate local or domain administrator username and password for the PCs you plan to update. If you are on a Windows domain, you also need to run the Ninite Pro program under the domain admin account. If you aren’t logged in using that account (and for security reasons, you certainly shouldn’t be), right-click the icon and launch the software using the Run as Administrator option.

When Ninite Pro starts up, you’ll see a rather extensive list of supported programs across a number of different categories. But before you pay too much attention to them, click on the Show remote options link in the lower-left corner of the window. The window will expand and list the PCs (servers too) it’s found. You can choose to have Ninite Pro pull a list of PCs from Active Directory or scan the local network and see what it finds.

Once you’ve chosen the specific PCs you want to work with (note that all systems identified are also selected by default) you can click and highlight one or more programs from the right column. For example, you’ll find various versions of Java and Flash in the Runtimes category, while Reader is further down under Documents.

Ninite Pro's Audit Feature

This is where things get interesting. If you click the down arrow next to the Install button at the lower-right, you’ll see there are also Update, Audit, and Uninstall options. The Audit option doesn’t install, uninstall, or update anything. It simply lets you know what version of a given program is installed on a remote PC and whether it’s the most recent version, which is quite useful.

Ninite Pro; small business security audit feature

Figure 2: Ninite Pro’s audit feature lets you see what version of a program your PCs are running, and whether they’re out of date.

But for sake of example, let’s say that you know that you need to update your Java, Flash, and Reader software. Make your software selections and click the Update button, and the next thing you’ll see is a color-coded window displaying the update status of each PC as it progresses. If any program can’t be updated on a given PC, you’ll see it clearly listed in red.

Note: a frequent cause for failed updates is because the program or a related program was already running. For example, the Flash plug-in can’t be installed or updated while the browser is open. By the way, Ninite Pro does its work silently and in the background so the PC user doesn’t need to be involved in any way.

Other Ninite Pros and Cons

A fringe benefit of using Ninite Pro for updates is that it automatically bypasses the cruft that you normally have to explicitly opt out of when updating software manually. (I’m looking at you, Ask.com Toolbar and McAfee Security Scan, just to name a couple.)

Ninite Pro can also suppress the desktop icons automatically created each time you install or update a piece of software (does anyone really use them?) and the annoying alerts that pop up from the notification area whenever a new update is available. To use these, look for Disable Shortcuts and Disable Auto-Updates under the Options menu when either Install or Update is selected.

Amidst all the positives, you will find a few downsides to Ninite Pro. For example, you can’t use it to update or install something that’s not on the program’s curated list of software. (Well, actually you can, but it takes extra work.) Ninite Pro also can’t update far-flung PCs connected via the Internet; if you have some computers that live somewhere other than on the corporate network, you’ll need to run Ninite Pro directly on them to do updates. Fortunately, the licensing model allows this. Lastly, it would be nice if there was a lower-cost entry-level pricing tier, say $10 per month for up to 50 machines, for smaller firms.

Quibbles aside, Ninite Pro takes a slow and tedious process and makes it fast and simple. If you spend hours each month keeping your PCs up to date, or worse, have abandoned the effort due to the time and effort required, you will find Ninite Pro an invaluable tool.

Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

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This article was originally published on Thursday Oct 24th 2013
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