What’s the difference between an update and an upgrade?
When it comes to computer programs (or applications or apps), there is no absolute definition of what constitutes an “upgrade” and what is an “update”. Therefore, it is just possible that you may come across an exception to the normal understanding of the terms. By and large, though, the meanings are as follows
An update is an amendment or addition to the same licence of a product that you currently have. The licence does not change and you do not have to buy anything – either for the first time (if it’s a free version of the product for which you have a licence) or a repeat purchase (if it’s a product that you have paid for).
An upgrade is a substantial change to the product, probably bringing more functionality than the previous version offered. Confusingly, though, the process of “upgrading” can also mean the process of changing from a free to a paid product.
What happens when you “upgrade” depends on the type of licence you have hitherto been enjoying:
If you are currently using a free version of an application and you are being offered an “upgrade”, then you are almost certainly being seduced into changing from a free product to a paid product. Some program vendors seek to either (a) make the offer more attractive or (b) muddy the waters (depending on your level of cynicism), so that you accidentally end up paying for a previously free product. They do this by offering you a “free upgrade trial”. What will then happen is that your licence for the free version will be “upgraded” to the paid version immediately but they won’t charge you for it for 30 days (or a similar period of time). So, 30 days later they come back to you looking for money and you’ve either forgotten or misunderstood what you did a month earlier, so you cough up. I’ve lost count of the number of my IT support clients who have said something like “they’re now demanding money for something that used to be free”.
If you have already paid for the product then there are different things that can happen when you are offered an upgrade:
- The upgrade may be free
- The upgrade may be available at a discounted price
- You may need to pay for the product all over again
You will need to study the individual offer and the terms of your licence to determine which offer applies. If you don’t want to pay for an upgrade then your current version will probably keep working just fine for a long time – years rather than months if you bought it relatively recently. There could come a time, however, when it will no longer work with the latest version of Windows (or Mac OSX), or when it won’t work with your shiny new printer, or some other connected device. Also, if you choose to continue with an older version of a piece of software you may not be able to get support from the vendor. When a vendor says that a version of a piece of software is “no longer supported”, they don’t mean that it will no longer work. They just mean that, as far as they are concerned, you are on your own with it.
So, in summary, if you are offered an “update”, you can almost certainly accept it without the possibility of needing to pay anything (whether your current licence is for a free or paid product). If you are offered an upgrade, you need to be more careful in accepting it if you don’t want either to pay for a version of something whose free version worked just fine for you, or pay again for a newer version of something that you already own.
There is no doubt in my mind that some vendors intentionally create confusion around the subject of updates and upgrades. At best, they appear to be disingenuous about the confusion they cause. A curious case, though, is Malwarebytes. Highly respected and highly useful software, Malwarebytes does seem to generate confusion in this area – at least among my own IT support clients. And yet, they do offer a way to cancel a 30 day trial of a paid subscription into which they have attracted their users. I covered the specific case of deactivating a trial subscription to Malwarebytes in a blog post earlier this year.