As a computer user, I often have to deal with new versions of the software I use. The updated version is always called an upgrade, as in You should upgrade to the latest version of our awesome software.

However, sometimes—or perhaps even often—it happens that (a) the newer version isn't noticeably better than the old one, and (b) the update requires some annoying and/or complicated tweaking in order to ensure compatibility between the newest release and prior version(s).

In my opinion, this isn't really an upgrade at all. I see it instead as a lot of extra work for no apparent benefit. Is there a word for this?

  • 4
    "Windows Update".
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 25 '17 at 20:27
  • 3
    – Davo
    Jan 25 '17 at 20:32
  • 1
    – J.R.
    Jan 25 '17 at 20:43
  • 1
    I like malgrade. It captures the sense I was aiming at. Jan 25 '17 at 20:47
  • 3
    I don't know of a good English word, but there is a good German one: > Verschlimmbesserung: A supposed improvement that makes things worse.
    – calum_b
    Jan 25 '17 at 20:53

this one does NOT refer to upgrades directly...

however it captures some of the spirit of the situation, referring to unwanted software forced upon you assuming you want it.


Perhaps you could call it a "bloatware update" (and some of the bad upgrades fairly could be called such when the main purpose of that particular upgrade is including unwanted features that the company hopes to cross sell their other products with)

google definition of bloatware bloat·ware

noun COMPUTING informal

  • software whose usefulness is reduced because of the excessive disk space and memory it requires.

"a nasty piece of cross-platform bloatware that's in serious need of a total overhaul"

  • unwanted software included on a new computer or mobile device by the manufacturer.

"users must initially contend with the usual bevy of bloatware (unnecessary toolbars, games of questionable value)"

  • 2
    Not a great fit for the OP's request, IMO, but a great word and description, nonetheless! :-) Jan 25 '17 at 20:53

As various commenters and answerers have noted, update is a more neutral term to describe revised versions of software that may offer no functional improvement on the prior version.

Another term that people in the tech industry sometimes use to describe such revisions is refresh. At the computer magazines where I worked for many years, writers often used update or refresh in place of upgrade in situations where upgrade was clearly a misnomer. (On the other hand, they also used update and refresh as straight-up synonyms for upgrade, so there is plenty of overlap in actual usage of these terms.

An early example of this usage appears in Dr. Dobb's Journal of Software Tools, volume 19 (1994) [combined snippets]:

The sheen on the miracle fades, however, when we try to run OS2fW with Windows 3.11, Microsoft's so-called refresh release of 3.1. ("Windows 3.11 — It's not an upgrade. It's just our way of letting you know who's boss.")

Evidently even Microsoft had qualms about calling Windows 3.11 an upgrade; hence, its resort to refresh as a less presumptuous characterization.

A literalist might argue that there is nothing refreshing about software that fails to improve on its predecessor—and that literalist would be right. But refresh is understated and subjective about the merits and extent of a revision in a way that the objectively assertive upgrade is not. In fact, many people now understand refresh to mean a minor and largely cosmetic revision—an X.11 rather than an X.1—although it may also refer to a periodic update of existing lines of hardware or software, whatever the extent of the change may be.


The updates are called "upgrades" for marketing purposes. It encourages the user to update.

In the mind, upgrades are positive..."I'm getting something better." Updates sound like the user is getting a more finished product of an unfinished product they bought before. A software developer can legitimately charge for an "upgrade" because they user is getting something better, but not for an update because the user is getting a fix of errant code with an update, which is something they expected to get with the original purchase.

  • By the way, a certain software giant often "gives" upgrades within a sub-whole number version update...when you go from version 3.0 to 3.1, they "give the upgrade", but when you upgrade from whole number updates, you have to buy the whole package again. The minor updates build good will, but the major updates build cash from a group that want the latest and greatest. Unless the previous version was total crap, then upgrades are often given to customers for free. All the while, this company is moving people from functional set of software to major upgrades across the board. Jan 25 '17 at 22:37

If an upgrade actually makes things worse, it would likely be referred to as as downgrade.

(As with a "push" in blackjack, if the upgrade doesn't do much at all, I would call that a win.)

  • Downgrade commonly means to reverse an upgrade. "I upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10 but I didn't like it, so I downgraded again." Oct 25 '18 at 10:01
  • @lessthanideal - yes, the verb downgrade means to go back to a previous version, but the noun downgrade can (and does, in my experience) refer to something that makes things worse. The Oxford Dictionaries' defines downgrade (noun) as An instance of reducing someone or something's rank, status, or level of importance. Such as a reduction of functionality or usability. Even more clearly, Merriam-Webster defines it as a descent toward an inferior state. Oct 26 '18 at 21:24

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