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Gadget patch tool tackles free office apps

IT managers can't stop the encroachment of free applications, but new tools can help keep end users properly patched.

Like many other technologies meant for consumers that find their way into the enterprise, Google applications may not be stoppable by IT managers.

One enterprise security vendor, Shavlik Technologies LLC, already offers tools to scan Microsoft Windows systems for missing updates in applications from Microsoft, Adobe Systems Inc., and in Real Networks Inc.'s Real Player and Mozilla's Firefox.

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The company now is offering a free download that checks out a system's security patches and then installs the missing ones on computers that run the standard edition of Google Desktop. Google Desktop is the desktop search software in Google Inc.'s free, individual version of its office tools.

Shavlik Patch Google Gadgets run on computers with Windows 2000 SP4 and Windows XP SP2, according to the company. It uses the same scanning engine that is in Shavlik's enterprise NetChk Protect patch management product.

Individuals are the ones who use the standard edition of GoogleApps the most, and some of those people bring it into the workplace as well, said Eric Schultze, Shavlik's chief technology architect.

Google Desktop is included as part of GoogleApps. On his blog, Google Enterprise VP and general manager Dave Girouard said the software has been downloaded by more than 100,000 businesses so far. The company doesn't distinguish between organizations that pay for the enterprise version and those that use the free version.

Google Desktop can conduct a text search of a desktop's files in many applications, offers its own Google Gadgets, which are small software programs that gather data online and then display it on Web pages or a user's browser page. Google also offers software code for those who want to develop their own gadgets.

While most Google Gadgets gather information about weather, news, games or some other form of entertainment, Peter O'Kelly, an analyst with Burton Group, a research company in Midvale, Utah, said they are also a handy way to deliver other, more practical information -- like updates.

Google also encourages people to create gadgets through a pilot program that gives $5,000 to gadget developers of their choosing to add features. The company gives $100,000 to startup companies that base their business on using or making the gadgets. Google said it hopes this program will encourage the creation of a wide range of third-party gadgets for GoogleApps users.

While more gadgets will likely show up, O'Kelly said it behooves people using them to be aware of the reputation of the company or Web site where they obtain the tools.

"You should use the same standards you use when deciding whether to open an email document," O'Kelly said. "If you wouldn't click on an email or attachment from that source, then you probably shouldn't download a gadget from them either."

There have been recent reports that the gadgets can be a way for phishers to get through network defenses. Phishers send email under false pretences, claiming to be a legitimate organization but divert users to a false Web site and steal their personal and financial information.

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