The next time you want to install your favorite browser, update iTunes, or get the latest security release for Flash, do yourself a favor. Skip the vendor’s site and go straight to Ninite.com instead.
This cleanly designed web service offers immediate access to more than 80 programs, utilities, and runtime environments in a dozen categories. It’s completely free for personal use (a Pro version is available for businesses). Ninite will save you time, and it guarantees that you won’t have to deal with the potentially misleading dialog boxes that can result in unwanted third-party software—what I call foistware—being installed on your machine.
Here’s how Ninite works:
You visit Ninite.com and click check boxes to select one or more programs from the categorized list.
When you’re finished, click the big green Get Installer button and wait while the Ninite back end builds an installer that targets the correct versions (32-bit or 64-bit, XP or Windows 7, and so on).
Download that installer, run it, and let Ninite do the work of downloading the files and silently installing them in the background. It automatically refuses any toolbars or other third-party software that the regular installer runs.
When it finishes (very quickly, in my experience), you’ll find the shortcuts to your newly installed programs on the Start menu, where you can run them and go through any required initial setup steps.
It really is that simple.
And here’s a bonus: If you save the installer and rerun it later, it will find and install any newly added updates for the apps in your selection.
I spoke with Ninite’s co-founder, Patrick Swieskowski, about the service and how it works. (If you’re curious, by the way, Swieskowski pronounces the first syllable with a soft I—nin rhymes with win. But he acknowledges that most people pronounce it with a long I, like Nine.)
Is it legal? In the arcane world of software licensing, who knows? But Ninite’s terms of serviceseem clear enough to me: “By using Ninite you certify that you have read and agree with the license agreements and restrictions of any software you install with Ninite.” As Swieskowski explained, it’s no different than hiring a friend—or the kid down the street—to set up a new PC for you.
Is it secure? I’m comfortable with the checks and balances. The installer goes out to official sites to download the code you install; Ninite doesn’t host any files on its own. Before it begins an install, it checks the digital signature of the file to ensure that its hash matches the known good version you’re expecting.
One of the most interesting Ninite options is the way it handles URLs. You can save a selection of software as a single URL, which is constructed from the names of the products. So if you want Mom to install the latest versions of Firefox, iTunes, and Skype, send her this link: http://ninite.com/firefox-itunes-skype/ When she visits that site, she gets a custom installer that sets up those three programs without any dialog boxes:
You can even use custom URLs on the fly to install single programs. You want Skype? Go to ninite.com/skype. Flash? Try ninite.com/flash (or ninite.com/flashie if you use Internet Explorer).
For now, Ninite is available for Windows and Linux only, but a Mac version is in the works. Highly recommended.