Updates, Patches and Fixes… Oh My!

The digital world is constantly evolving and so is the software powering it. Every second, new ideas are born, new problems are discovered, and these trickle down to users in the form of updates. Though perceived by many as an inconvenience, updates are what keep computers not just safe but relevant. Though it’s enticing to click “postpone until tomorrow,” there are many types of updates, and all of them serve important purposes in computer maintenance.

Patches are the most common type of updates, typically addressing small, non-emergency issues, I.e., the benign but annoying bugs that users encounter daily. Additionally, patches sometimes address lesser security concerns, such as niche exploits. Occasionally, patches introduce their own issues, however, these are quickly addressed through hotfixes. The risks from patches are dwarfed by the issues they fix, and despite their small scope, they serve as important stepping stones in the software lifecycle. Depending on the product, missing one patch may hold users back from any future updates. 

Hotfixes go hand-in-hand with patches, providing a similar function by addressing bugs, but with far more urgency. These typically address bugs which make the software unusable, either through functionality or severe security flaws. They’re intended to be applied as fast as possible, referring to the notion “going in hot.” Avoiding updates, even patches, may render users unable to receive hotfixes, which can quickly lead to profound issues. 

Feature updates, in contrast to patches and hotfixes, seek to improve software rather than simply repairing it. They typically allow users to be more productive or enhance their experience by polishing existing features. To decline feature updates is counterproductive, and there are few incentives, save for avoiding issues which would be addressed by a hotfix. 

In addition to these main types of updates, Windows users are also presented with two unique kinds: service packs and maintenance releases. Service packs provide several months’ worth of the essential patches and features which users may have missed. Maintenance releases provide similar functionality on a smaller scale, stemming the gap between two service packs. Both kinds of updates are essential, as they offer a tried-and-true selection of the best patches. 

Particular to enterprise environments, such as the university, if a particular software version is known to be safe, a feature update or bugfix may not be worth the risk of introducing new issues; instead, they might wait for a service pack, which guarantees a certain stability. Keep in mind, though, that updates are almost always beneficial, with the choice being left up to users when and how to install them. For the average user, the risks from updating are minimal. 

Author: Grey Ruessler, IT Tech Assistant


Symanovich, S. (2019). 5 reasons why general software updates and patches are important. Retrieved from https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-how-to-the-importance-of-general-software-updates-and-patches.html