Running in a pack

The auto-updater Google Pack gets an update of its own, but is it for the better?

The folks in Mountain View, Calif., have recently updated their Google Pack, and while combining some of the best programs with an automatic updater and installer, some of the program choices have left me disappointed. The recent addition of StarOffice confirms that while this collection is good, it could be a lot better.

The Google tools that are included are excellent, for the most part. Earth, Desktop, Talk, Picasa, the Google Photos Screensaver, and the Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer are all here for the program party.

Firefox is included, which is good. It comes bundled with the Google toolbar extension, which is unnecessary but easy enough to remedy. There's also Skype for text and voice chat and Spyware Doctor Starter Edition for malware detection and removal, but while the other programs included satisfy major food group requirements, there are healthier choices.

Painfully slow Adobe Reader could easily be replaced by the lightweight FoxIt Reader. Norton Security Scan is also cumbersome and large, and most users would be better served by AVG Anti-Virus or Avast Home Edition. StarOffice is the pay-for-play version of the OpenOffice suite, so why force people to spend money when there's a perfectly good freeware version to be had?

There are some important software areas that are missing from the pack, too. There used to be a universal chat application, but Trillian jumped ship almost a year ago. Pidgin would serve well. There's no archiving program, a niche that 7Zip could fill nicely, nor is there a registry cleaner, a rootkit killer, or a defragger. CCleaner, HiJack This, or Auslogics Disk Defrag, anyone? Somewhat shockingly, there's also no e-mail client--the Gmail-friendly Thunderbird would get my vote.

What strikes me as most unfortunate about the pack is that there aren't multiple choices in the same category. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Google has a financial investment in the programs it includes, but assuming they don't, it'd be great to have a more flexible pack.

If you could build your own auto-updating installer package, what would you include?