Mac OS has a built-in utility to make sure any installed Apple software is patched. App Update can help you take care of the third-party programs on your machine.
Using up-to-date software is one of the best ways to make sure that your computers stay secure and stable. Apple has built in their Software Update utility to make sure that the operating system and any Apple-developed software on a system stay current, but Software Update has limits. It does not offer any information on the third-party programs installed on the machine. I have always found it a chore to keep current those applications that are not supported by Software Update. For a long time, my only recourse was to regularly check the developers' Web sites or to launch specific programs to see if they would try to update themselves. Since I maintain a Mac software build that uses quite a few non-Apple programs, this ritual can get pretty tedious.
A streamlined method of determining when third-party software updates are released can save support pros some legwork and help ensure that new machines are not ever deployed with out-of-date applications installed. I don't think that a perfect software update management system exists, but I have found a utility that does an admirable job. It is a Dashboard widget called App Update. App Update scans the Applications directories on your local Mac and compares the results of its scan against a few prominent software repositories. Thus, App Update can let you know when releases have been published for some of the programs not supported by the OS X Software Update tool.
My tips for getting the most out of App Update…Make sure to enable recursive searches in your Path Settings. A lot of the programs in my Applications folder are installed in subdirectories, and App Update won't scan them without recursion turned on. Enable auto-checking and Growl notifications. If you don't have the Growl engine installed on your Mac, you're missing out on a great way to receive status updates from your software. Use all the update sources App Update supports. VersionTracker is a comprehensive resource for software, but Apple and MacUpdate maintain good repositories of Apple-compatible software, too.
App Update does not do everything; it only alerts you to version discrepancies. It does not install new packages, and it does not download them for you. That's perfect for me, though. I want to be the one who decides to install new software on my machines. App Update just does me the favor of letting me know when there are new versions out there.
App Update is developed by Georg Kaindl and requires Mac OS 10.4 or later. The widget is free, but if you find it useful, please consider offering a donation to the author.