At a Glance
Some software seems to update every week. It's easy to be few releases behind the curve, which can be anything from mildly annoying to--if there's a major security hole in the version you're using--outright dangerous. UpdateStar scans your installed programs, check their versions, and looks at their database to determine if you need to upgrade. All the free version will do is tell you--you have to go hunt down the newest version on your own. Don't get me wrong: This is useful. Within a week, it found three updates to some software I use regularly. But there are problems with the implementation.
UpdateStar doesn't distinguish between new versions of a program and new programs in a series or line. For example, I downloaded Bioshock via Steam a while back. UpdateStar tells me I am out of date--but it's basing this on the existence of Bioshock 2, an entirely different game, and isn't checking for the latest patch to Bioshock 1. Likewise, I am not eager to move to Office 2010, but I do want to be sure I have the latest patches to Office 2007. However, UpdateStar's database is not smart enough to draw that distinction.
UpdateStar Premium kicks up the functionality quite a bit. For one thing, its "Download" button instantly takes you to the official download site for the current version. "Minor" upgrades (1.1245 to 1.1246) become visible in the window. Community-driven security ratings also appear. UpdateStar Free suffers somewhat from the "teaseware" problem; while some functions are clearly marked as unavailable, others will seem active until you can click them.
The community-driven nature of UpdateStar can often be frustrating. For example, I am in the beta for a game called APB Unlimited. I haven't updated my beta in a while, so I clicked the "download" option in UpdateStar. This took me to the UpdateStar Web page, where I found a number of banner ads that feature big, shiny "download" buttons to tempt casual or careless users into clicking. Buried in small print at the bottom of the actual content on the page, I unearthed a notice that no download for the beta was available, and would I please like to add one? I might ask why the program itself isn't smart enough to disable the "Download" option if no such link exists, but the answer is simple: If it did that, there would be less reason for me to go the Web site and see the revenue-generating banner ads.
I recognize that companies often have little control over the content of banner ads served to their site, but the omnipresent fake "download" buttons when taken to a page whose main purpose is to provide a secure download for updates is counter-productive. I do not know what, if anything, UpdateStar can do to filter these ads, but perhaps not displaying them to "Premium" customers would be possible.
Another issue I experienced was that when I went to look for an update to PopCap Games' Bejeweled, I was linked to a page for "Easy Bejeweled," a game from a different company. I was informed that the database update is semi-automated but human-moderated, and that such incorrect matches are rare.
Overall, I found UpdateStar to be a great idea with many functions I could use, marred by the risk of landing on advertising-laden pages whether there was any meaningful content there or not. The database is simultaneously extensive and incomplete; there are many programs it knows about, but the detail for each program varies greatly. The ad-cluttered Web site and the occasional data errors all undermine the main selling point of UpdateStar as a one-stop shop for safe and current downloads. PCWorld favorite Secunia PSI is a better bet.