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October 22nd 2013 7:56 pm

What differentiates a point update vs a major update with regard to software?

We were having an interesting discussion in the office today about OS X Mavericks. Some people felt that Mavericks (along with Mountain Lion, Lion, and Snow Leopard) seemed more like point releases than significantly new operating systems. (i.e., a simple update intended to fix bugs rather than add significant new features.)

A second example was mentioned with regard to iOS. iOS 7 has been the first new coat of paint in a long time. Prior to that, iOS 6, 5, 4, etc, added new features under the hood, but in most cases they weren't things immediately obvious to the end user.

In your eyes, what are the primary things that differentiate a point update and a major release? Which one is OS X Mavericks? And which one will Android's new OS, KitKat, be?

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9 replies

Once a platform reaches a certain level of maturity, the numbering system begins to feel rather arbitrary outside of major UI rehauls, and those become rare at that point. Certainly, iOS 7 was such. OS X possibly should have gone up to XI by now because 10.0 is an ocean away from 10.9 in terms of UI design.
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I've often felt Android played this game early on, more so than iOS. They'd build up these new OS releases and more often then not they didn't bring too much to the table. 1.5/6 to 2.0/2.1 was pretty big, as was 2.3/4 to 4.0. But everything in the middle had so many under the hood changes or features that appealed to such a small subset they didn't feel significant.
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I think it depends on just how much changes. If the change is mainly background stuff that you may not even encounter or be aware of it may be a point upgrade. Larger upgrades that offer more front facing changes I feel are major updates. To me, Mavericks is a major upgrade. More so than Mountain Lion was.
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I agree with most of the comments below, but I also think of it in this interesting way:

I think major releases have been used to signify change (ie damage control) after a "failed release". Whereas the "good" releases can get several service packs and point updates. Think Windows XP Service Pack 4

Android 4.0 was clearly better than Android 3.1 (Heck, in my books all of honeycomb was dreadful)

Windows 7 mopped up the bitter taste of Vista.

Of course this argument falls apart when you considered how OSX Puma "fixed" OSX Cheetah, and more recently Windows 8.1 is "fixing" Windows 8

Just interesting to think about
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Good observation. I guess we will see this play out in Windows when Microsoft rushes 9 after 8.1 fails to stop the complaining. :)
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I didn't see Windows 8.1 as a fix but just a response to what was really a minor annoyance that any user could have taken care with a simple download of a start menu overlay ie: Start 8 (Stardock) or any of the free ones.
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I have never thought of OS updates as a way to fix up a mistake or a flaw in a previous OS version. I always thought of them as improvements.

Some OS's need more improvements than others. When it seems like there is little improvements to be made, maybe a company is just lacking innovation in terms of how to dramatically change the experience for the better. I believe Microsoft was at that stage, and wanted to provide a dramatically new experience for the better......except they forgot the making it better part.
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Well, there's patches, service packs, and platforms.
I consider if its something that has an annual or biannual occurrence, than it's a service pack.

Something that has weekly to monthly updates are patches.

Finally, something that is a completely new build, or a revamped build is a platform.

Mobile OS's really don't need revamps in software. (yet) They are just service packs with patches in between.
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i think the OP recognizes that, but what he is looking for is what constitutes a major upgrade. Obviously Microsoft, Apple, and Google will do what they can to bolster the hype leading to an OS upgrade. Consider the upgrade of XP SP1 to SP2, that was a pretty major upgrade that brought a lot of stability to the platform; in today's environment perhaps MS would have touted that as XP 2.0.
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