What’s the Difference Between a Software Update and an Upgrade?

Apple’s software releases (including OS X) after the initial release are either updates or upgrades. What is the difference? Why is it important? Does this mean you need the update or the upgrade? Let’s explore the differences between updates and upgrades and what they mean for you.

What are Apple Updates:

When Apple releases an update it usually fixes bugs, adds support for new hardware, changes already introduced features and incorporates up to date code / fixes for the Unix infrastructure. A good way to tell if it is an update is by the release number. For example, if you are going from Apple’s Logic Pro’s version 6.1 to 6.2, it’s an update. In OS X terms, an update example would be going from 10.5.1 to 10.5.5. What updates mean for you is that they either fix problems or improve already existing features.

What is an Apple Upgrade:

When Apple releases an upgrade, it’s a major release incorporating many new features from the noticeable (adding Time Machine) to the not so noticeable (a complete overhaul of the Unix infrastructure). Upgrades are either a new version number of a “dot release” in the case of OS X. Going from Logic Pro 6 to Logic Studio 7 is an upgrade. An upgrade for OS X would be 10.4 (Tiger) to 10.5 (Leopard). Updates for the upgrades do not mix and you can’t update from 10.4.11 to 10.5.5 without upgrading. What an upgrade means for you is that they introduce new features and unfortunately sometimes these new features include bugs in the case of the initial release.

Distribution style:

Distribution style is another difference between updates and upgrades. An update is downloaded through Software Update. An upgrade is usually shipped via CD or DVD. What this means to you is that an update will be automatically distributed to you while an upgrade will require the effort of obtaining a CD / DVD.

Free vs Paid:

A major difference between updates and upgrades is that updates are free while upgrades are for purchase. Basically, anything running over Software Update will be free but you won’t be able to go from one major version of OS X (Tiger) to the next (Leopard) without buying it.

Knowing the difference between updates and upgrades will give you the heads-up on:

- Will this release introduce new features and possibly new problems?
- Will it cost you anything or is it a free release?
- Does it require effort or will it automatically show up?
- Will this fix existing problems or improve support for current devices?

Remember, as much as Apple wants you to adopt their latest, greatest and paid for upgrade – sometimes it’s not necessary. Make sure you weigh the costs vs benefits before getting swept up in the “New Release Frenzy”.

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