Updated: March 5, 2011
Secunia PSI was already a guest at Dedoimedo's geek show. I have reviewed version 1.x some time ago and found it quite adequate. There were a few glitches here and there, but overall, it worked well. Now, version 2.0 has been released, so this warrants another look.
Personal Software Inspector is exactly what the name says - a program that audits your software baseline and offers fixes, including detecting outdated and vulnerable programs, suggests updates and patches and similar. PSI is primarily a security tool, but you can use it for managing your programs just as you would in Linux, with a classic package manager. All right, let's see what the latest version brings to the table.
During the installation, you will notice PSI now offers an important and very useful auto-update feature. For supported software, PSI can download and install new patches without any user interaction. However, if you do not like system changes to happen in the background, without your knowledge, you can demand that PSI informs you on any installation.
This will not work for all programs you have installed. However, it's a great thing and that much closer to a true software package and update manager the kinds of which you get in Linux distributions.
After the program launches, you will be greeted with the familiar interface, with subtle yet welcome changes that improve usability. The facelift removes some of the ambiguous notifications and quirks that existed in the 1.x family.
Colors red and green are used to signify good and bad things about your setup. For color-blind, the choice could be tricky. And since most of geeks are men, and most men are visually impaired one way or another, the semaphore metaphor is out of place. Personally, I think the security part is also overplayed.
I see PSI mainly as a convenience tool that allows me to check my software baseline at a glance and quickly and easily upgrade relevant programs without manually going about this task. However, Secunia places most of the focus on the security aspects of not running the latest and greatest, almost to the point of slight panic. You'll get popup notifications for unpatched software and more than one hint slash urging to update immediately lest you perish. Overall, the emphasis remains geeky, which could explain the attitude.
Auto updating remains the central point of the latest release. After you scan your machine, the results will be displayed in a severity top-down list, including the threat rating and possible solutions. You might be alarmed by the results, but do not panic. Read carefully and try to assess whether the alerts are relevant and applicable to your setup.
Other than this change in the functionality, Secunia PSI remains the same old product. It's very useful for quick and painless audits and can reduce significant administrative overhead, which affects the Windows users so badly.
Problems & some suggestions
Indeed, the same old product also refers to same old problems.
PSI will not run without an Internet connection, so you cannot use the program while offline. This can be fairly annoying. What if you're traveling and do not have a fixed network connection? Does this imply Secunia is useless in this regard? Or that you should not bother with any patching if you can't go online anyway? An interesting idea, by the way.
On its first run, Secunia will scan the entire system, which can take a long while, especially if you have lots of data spread over a large number of partitions. Some users also reported getting an empty list of drives, which sounds like a weird bug. However, I have not encountered this.
The privacy options have been cleaned up a little, but the geo-locating security remains. Cross-browser compliance has also improved, however you might experience slowness opening some of the sub-menus.
I would recommend switching geo-location off and scan only the system drive by default, offering the additional options in the settings. On the other hand, users might never bother changing the defaults, which could explain the somewhat aggressive, all-inclusive scan parameters on the first run. It's a battle between paranoia and usefulness. Tricky.
Version 2.0 is a major improvement over the 1.x series. You get fewer bugs, a more intuitive interface and a key new feature that really brings the functionality to a new level. Auto-updating makes Secunia PSI a pleasure to use. You almost feel like you're working with a package manager in Linux, although the fully streamlined system control is still a few versions away.
If you've liked PSI in the past, you will like version 2.0 even better. No major bugs, no crashes, no weird errors, decent performance, decent looks, a getting-friendly menu, and more lazy comfort for you. You should definitely give it a whirl.