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How do I Upgrade Computer Software?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

The old adage nothing lasts forever has never been truer, especially when it comes to technology. Hardware and software is continually being improved to better meet needs and to eliminate bugs. Routine computer maintenance involves keeping hardware drivers and software programs updated. When newer versions of programs are available, you can upgrade computer software as needed, though this sometimes involves buying a new license.

The words update and upgrade are often used interchangeably. Updates are small corrections in software code intended to eliminate unwanted behaviors under certain conditions, otherwise known as bugs. An upgrade is a re-coding of the program that adds features or otherwise improves the software, or should.

Software updates can be downloaded from the internet.
Software updates can be downloaded from the internet.

Updates are reflected in version numbers by small increments in the decimal. For example, going from software version 4.2.01 to 4.2.03 would indicate a very minor fix or update. Going from 4.2.02 to 4.3 would indicate a more significant update, or group of fixes. A software upgrade changes the primary version number, such as going from version 4.x to version 5.0. However, this isn’t a hard fast rule, as some software authors might consider a bundle of fixes significant enough to change the primary version number, even though no new features are added.

A tablet computer is usually updated with downloadable patches.
A tablet computer is usually updated with downloadable patches.

You can upgrade computer software manually by opening a program and navigating to a screen that will check the manufacturer’s website for version changes. This is commonly found under the Help menu at the top toolbar. If not, check the manual by entering the word “update” or “upgrade” in the Help search box.

Updates to the current version are typically provided free of charge. If you own version 3.x, you’ll be able to download free updates to the 3.x version. When the software is upgraded to version 4.0, the licensing agreement might require a fee. This is entirely up to the software author or manufacturer, as dictated in the electronic user license agreement (EULA) contract that is agreed to by the user upon installation of the software.

Updates may be downloaded online or installed using a CD Rom.
Updates may be downloaded online or installed using a CD Rom.

You can upgrade computer software that is freeware and open source by following the previous directions. Once a new version is found, it will be downloaded to your computer. Depending on the program, it might complete all steps for you, only requiring a restart of the program, or in other cases, a reboot. The upgrade should always be installed in the same directory as the previous version to maintain user profiles, settings and data.

In some cases when you attempt to upgrade computer software a pop-up will inform you that the previous version of the software must first be uninstalled. This is more common when upgrading firewalls and anti-virus programs. When an upgrade requires uninstallation of the previous version, it might offer to do this for you. By clicking through the pop-ups you can upgrade the software without having to take manual action.

Another way to upgrade computer software is to configure programs to automatically check for version changes on a schedule. The controls for this can usually be found under the Tools menu of the program, either in Options or Config, though software design varies. Updates and upgrades might have separate controls, allowing the program to check for one and not the other. This is useful for someone who doesn’t wish to upgrade computer software but would like to continue to receive free updates for the version he or she is using.

Setting programs to check automatically for newer versions save you the trouble of remembering to upgrade computer software yourself, but some people prefer manual updating. An automatic update can come at an inconvenient time, in the middle of a task you don’t wish to interrupt. Additionally, configuring all programs to check for automatic updates results in dozens of background processes running. This consumes system resources, can extend the time it takes to boot into the desktop, and can intermittently hang surfing.

A good compromise is to allow only critical software programs to check for automatic updates. The operating system, anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall should always be configured to check for updates. Programs that do not have to do with security or system operations can be checked manually.

Discussion Comments


A lot of people have made upgrades to Windows 7, and so last month I finally gave in. I love it! Windows 7 is ten times better than Vista, faster, more responsive and user-friendly and less buggy.

Not all upgrades of software are improvements, but in this case it’s a major improvement indeed.


I work at a software company and we use the 4 digit system to indicate incremental upgrades, such a Once we go to a brand new version of the software (using this example) we would go to

One thing I notice is that customers don’t always do the incremental upgrades, choosing instead to wait to install computer upgrades with the big version releases. The only problem with that is that there are some bug fixes in the incremental upgrades that would take care of issues they’re having.

We get a lot of support calls where the customer is asking about things we’ve already fixed in an incremental upgrade, but because they tend to wait for the big releases, they haven’t made the updates and so they wind up calling us.

My advice to everyone is that you should upgrade your software as often as you can. There’s a lot of stuff you won’t have to worry about fixing later.

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    • Software updates can be downloaded from the internet.
      By: nattstudio
      Software updates can be downloaded from the internet.
    • A tablet computer is usually updated with downloadable patches.
      By: TAlex
      A tablet computer is usually updated with downloadable patches.
    • Updates may be downloaded online or installed using a CD Rom.
      By: Alysta
      Updates may be downloaded online or installed using a CD Rom.