a. The accuracy, completeness and timeliness of the information listed on the web site depends heavily upon the users of the Version Master application "contributing" the information. As stated on a Symmetry web page: "Symmetry maintains a database of all the software reported from users of Version Master. Whenever a user checks in reporting a more current version than is in the database, the database records the new version and reports that new version to future users. As more and more people use Version Master, the database becomes more and more accurate in reporting the correct versions."
Any web site visitor may contribute URLs (which are then checked by Symmetry before being added to the database).
These arrangements lead to a number of problems:
While the site lists many many updated files, the URLs needed to get them are often missing. This is particularly true for shareware and freeware files. Even for commercial products, the URL is often for the home page of the vendor, rather than the specific page where the updated file is posted.
In many cases, the information listed is inaccurate or confusing (or both). For example, when I checked on RAM Doubler 2, I found that it listed five separate U.S. updates: RAM Doubler 2.0.1, RAM Doubler 2.0b1, RAM Doubler Installer 2.0.1, RAM Doubler Installer 2.0b3 and RAM Doubler Updater 2.0.1.
b. The biggest surprise is if you use the Version Master application. This application scans your hard drive for the versions of the software you currently have. You can then use the Download Current Versions command to connect to the Version Master web site to automatically determine what newer software you need. However, what it also does (while doing this check) is upload the version information from files on your hard drive to the web site, then adding that information to the database. It does this without telling you that any upload is taking place. This was confirmed by a reader who created a phony application on his disk prior to checking for Current Versions. The phony application is now listed in the Version Master database!
When I discussed this matter with Tom Reahard of Symmetry, he responded that the web site and application do contain sufficient information to explain what is happening when you use the Version Master application. I found that, while there is a Privacy Notice in the software concerning your name and email address data being uploaded (and that you can select to have this information removed at any point), there was no mention about the uploading of file information. I also did not find the explanation on the web site to make this clear. Of course, as Mr. Reahard points out, the service is free and you are free not to use it. He also states that most users do not have any problem with the arrangement, once they are aware of Symmetry's explanation. You decide.
(Thanks to Eric Richards and Ronald A. Leroux for contributing to this report.)