Is there any way to install NPM packages except in a project?

If not, why is the packages installer active but doesn't do anything when you select a package and click Install? Do you have to install packages each time for a project? I thought maybe WS would make this less of a hassle. Installs work with a project open.

I also see a newer Latest version for npm itself but choosing Upgrade does nothing nor gives any error.

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Yes, sure - you need to pass the -g option to npm: tick the Options checkbox and enter '-g' there

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