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The top half of the screenshot above is a view from the Windows 7 Control Panel showing me the names and other details of 13 programs I installed today. The bottom half shows Ninite doing all the work for me. I wasn't pestered with annoying dialog boxes. No toolbars or unnecessary add-ins were slipped into the installation. I selected some boxes on a web page, clicked the Get Installer button, and ran that one executable file to install all 13 programs.
The Ninite website now includes 85 apps in 12 categories. The company has remained true to its goal of making the installation process as easy and safe as possible for all the programs on that list. Ninite chooses the appropriate version for your system architecture, downloads the most recent copy, and installs it silently. You see a progress dialog box, but you don't have to do anything else.
The Ninite installer upgrades programs if it detects than an older version is installed, and it skips the installation if the program is already up to date. This makes it a real timesaver whether you're setting up a new PC or cleaning up an old one.
Did I mention it's free?
Yeah, the top two slots in my roundup come from the same company. That's how awesome Ninite is.
Ninite Updater is a separate program that you can run on any Windows PC, regardless of whether you used the Ninite installer or not.
It's a super-lightweight standalone utility that runs in the background and alerts you when updates are available for any of the programs it monitors. That includes widely used programs that are common targets of malware authors, like Flash, Adobe Reader, and Java.
The tray icon turns from green to red when updates are available. Click the red icon to display a list of all programs that have an update available. Click the Update button to immediately download the update packages and install them silently , with no pestering of any kind.
The program isn't free—it's $9.99 for one PC for a year, with family packs available at significant discounts ($50 for 10 PCs, which don't have to be in one location). If you support a business network, try Ninite Pro.
7-Zip will never win any design awards. In fact, it looks like a throwback to an earlier era, when flat icons roamed the earth.
But this open-source utility does its one job very well—helping you pack and unpack compressed files in just about any format, including ZIP and GZIP, TAR and ARJ, CAB, and DMG files. It also opens standard ISO disk images, Windows virtual hard drive files (VHD) and Windows Imaging Format (WIM) files used for OEM Windows installations.
Oh, and it's just plain faster than Windows Explorer at the core task of unzipping a file.
To recap: Free. Fast. Incredibly versatile. What more could you ask for?