Should I update my utilities every time there's a new version out? Getty Images

Should I update my utilities every time there's a new version out?

Q. I’m often notified — at least monthly, and sometimes more often — that utilities such as RoboForm, GoodSync, CCleaner, and others need updating. I’m puzzled why these utilities have so many updates. How beneficial is it to the user to update these apps every time there’s a new version? 

​A. There are two major types of software updates, based largely on whether you’re using free or paid-for software. Both types have at least occasional updates that include various bug fixes and enhancements.

You can usually pick and choose which of these updates to install. The easiest way to see what’s in a new version is to check the software publisher’s website; changes are usually listed under headings such as version history, product news, update news, and so on.

For example, see RoboForm’s Version News: the update to Version 7.9.16 mostly deals with changes in Firefox, Chrome, Windows 10, and high-resolution displays. If you’re not using Firefox, Chrome, Windows 10, or a high-DPI monitor, and if your current setup is working fine, you probably don’t need that update. Feel free to skip it.

On the other hand, when the listed changes do apply to your situation — or if they include major bug fixes, improvements to performance, and/or security patches — then the update is likely to be worth installing.

Free software can be a little different. In addition to rolling out true product improvements, some free-software publishers use frequent updates to pull you back to their websites, where they display ads or try to upsell you to a paid version.

It’s hard to find fault with these marketing tricks; “free” software still costs money to produce and distribute, and publishers need to recover their investment somehow.

So, I have two suggestions for managing updates. First, if you’re bothered by too-frequent updates to free software, consider upgrading to the paid version, which usually eliminates or reduces update nags that are unrelated to actual product enhancements.

Second, for all software (free and paid), check the product’s version history or news releases to see whether the offered upgrade corrects a problem that affects you — or offers an improvement that benefits you. It’s okay to skip any update that doesn’t apply to your situation, setup, or needs.

(Originally published on Windows Secrets on Thursday, December 10, 2015.)

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Editor's note: We feature an abridged Q&A from Fred Langa's LANGALIST, a column available exclusively to paid subscribers of the Windows Secrets newsletter,. What you see here is just a small sampling of what Langa's writing for the newsletter — go here for more information on how to subscribe.

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