BlackBerry First Steps: Operating systems - official, leaked, and unofficial

BlackBerry First Steps - Operating Systems
By Joseph Holder on 1 Mar 2011 09:31 am EST

Every day, thousands will pick up a new BlackBerry. For a good many of them, this will be their first BlackBerry; maybe even their first smartphone. We've all had that first day; poking and prodding a new BlackBerry, trying to figure out how it works. This series aims to make that process a bit easier.

Look, I consider myself to be of fairly decent intelligence. I'm no rocket scientist or quantum theorist, but I know my way around technology. Yet, when I first visited, one of the hardest things to wrap my brain around is the operating system. Which BlackBerry operating system am I using? How do I upgrade it? What's a leaked OS? It took me a long while to figure this stuff out; I really wish I could have found an article explaining all of that and maybe more.

This is that article.

What's an OS 

Briefly, the operating system is the software that runs on your BlackBerry's hardware. Just like Microsoft's Windows running on a Dell or HP computer, your BlackBerry's OS is the core of all operations on your device. Everything else - from communications to apps - must pass through the OS.

What OS am I running?

The easiest and fastest way to figure out what OS you're using involves teaching you a BlackBerry Pro Tip. Learn this well; use it to impress your BlackBerry-wielding friends. Here's how to bring up the Help Me! screen; it's full of useful information.

You're going to press the alt key, the left shift key, and the letter H all at the same time. Please note, Pearl users do not have this option. Legend tells of some who are able to perform this keystroke with a single hand. I'm not one of them. All three keys need to be pressed at the same time. When you do, this screen appears.

BlackBerry Help Me! Screen

This is chock-full of useful information about your BlackBerry. If you're ever on the phone with a carrier representative, chances are s/he will need your PIN or even IMEI number. By pressing these three keys, you can also find out what operating system you are running.

Take a look at that picture up there. Do you see the line that says App Version: (695)? That's the version of the operating system; don't worry about the numbers in parentheses. That first bit of the version number tells me this BlackBerry runs OS 6.0; other phones might say 5.0 or even 4.6. When you're dealing with OS updates for your smartphone, generally it's those last three digits (the .246) that change the most.

How (and Why) do I upgrade? 

OS upgrades offer bug fixes, improved performance, and additional features...most of the time. You see, OS upgrades come in three different flavors. They all work the same (for the most part) on your BlackBerry, but the way you get them is different.

You should also know that OS version upgrades are specific to each smartphone. This means that no matter how much you want that update, you're out of luck if you don't have a BlackBerry Torch.

Official Updates

Wireless Carriers NA 

Your wireless provider (carrier) is responsible for officially supporting an OS. If something goes amiss, they are the ones who must make it right. As such, they spend a lot of time making absolutely sure that an OS upgrade works before issuing it to their customers. Carrier updates can be done OTA (over-the-air), so it's possible to get a message on your phone letting you know an update is available. You can also download the latest OS from your carrier's website or get the update through BlackBerry Desktop Manager.

Pros: Carrier-tested, Carrier-supported; stable; some updates can be done OTA
Cons: Carriers are slow to release updates.

Leaked OS

Leaked OS

A leaked OS is an operating system version that has not been released by any carrier. Sometimes, they are vast improvements over previous versions - offering greatly improved performance and awesome new features. Not always though; sometimes they are quite a bit worse than previous versions.

Consider these to be "evaluation versions." Sometimes they have bugs, sometimes not. It's up to you to decide if you want to install a leaked OS. Keep in mind, if you have any trouble and have to call your carrier, the first thing they'll tell you is to downgrade to an officially supported OS version.

Pros: Latest available OS; sometimes enhanced performance; unreleased features
Con: Untested, potentially unstable, potentially prone to errors

Official Updates (from carriers not your own)

Speed and Stability 

Not all carriers are the same; some release OS updates faster than others. So if I have Carrier A, and Carrier B releases an update to my BlackBerry, I'm out of luck, right? I can't put a Three UK OS on my AT&T phone can I? Well, all you have to do is delete a single file.

On the site and perhaps in our forums, you may have heard of the need to delete a vendor.xml file. This always confused the heck out of me. So here's the deal. Each carrier sells a slightly different BlackBerry. The vendor.xml file in the OS must match the carrier information included with your BlackBerry.

Here's the cool part. After you've installed the update to your computer, delete the vendor.xml (just search for it) file and install as normal. That's all you have to do to install an officially carrier-supported OS... that's not supported by your carrier. It's sort of the best of both worlds: you don't have to wait for your carrier to release a stable update to your Blackberry.

Pros: Carrier-tested; carrier-supported; stable
Cons: Not supported by your carrier

There is much more to learn about BlackBerry operating systems. This article will give you a firm footing as you explore your BlackBerry and 

More Information about Operating Systems

OS Superpage 
How to Install or Upgrade to a New BlackBerry Operating System
Official OS's
Leaked OS's 

Reader comments

BlackBerry First Steps: Operating systems - official, leaked, and unofficial


So the powers that be felt strongly enough to include "Hybrids" in the new site layout under the OS section of the header, but they don't even receive a mention in this article? The least you could have done is given them the standard back-handed compliment proclaiming them to be useless and dangerous.

It WAS his article to write!   However I do agree with you in principle, hybrids could have been at least mentioned.   I probably would NOT have said useless and dangerous, BUT would certainly have included a strong disclaimer and at least the dangerous part.  ;)

 Perhaps you might email kevin and offer to write an advanced 101 (or maybe call it a 201) about Hybrids?   You ARE one of THE experts.  ;)

You're wrong about there not being a way to access to "help me" screen on the Pearl as I've done it before. Here's how:
Hold down the ALT key while pressing each of the following keys in sequence: ER AS CV ER

You also forgot the Storm:
While holding down the "Return Key"
Press/push down the top left corner of the screen;
then the top right corner;
then the top left corner again;
and then finally the top right corner

Just An Amazing Article ;) I'm new to BB World As I've Got My Curve 9300 last December :) . Anyways Great effort Thanks :)

Great writing :) but i guess i agreed with willy least u can put some words about it..but then's ur writing ;) i can't say "Hybrids" are dangerous or useless..i used some Hybrids
All i can say..some Hybrids help to improve a leak OS performance..but sometimes it's not..
But everything has it's own pros and cons right ?

BB Tweaks produce many quality hybrids that have fewer bugs than some of the 'official' released OS and many enhancements. If a bug is found, it is fixed within 24 hours, in most cases. I agree that you always must include a disclaimer, but to exclude hybrids from a discussion on OS, but to include leaked OS, seems to be either an oversight, or incomplete coverage of the subject. Readers should be given all the facts and be allowed to choose, not just what the writer wants them to know.

While I agree with most of what you said I need to point out one difference. It is true that official OS versions from carriers other than your own are a fairly safe bet. Unless you are talking about OS 6 for Bold 9700. The carriers that have released an "official" version of OS 6 for Bold 9700 have released leaked versions that they now call "official".

The rules just haven't applied to OS 6 for Bold 9700. Carriers have been careless. And there has been such a clamour for OS 6 for Bold 9700 that some carriers have rushed through the test and cert process, often missing or intentionally overlooking some bugs and operational issues. Among my arsenal of BlackBerry devices I have a Torch 9800 and a Bold 9700. For my 9700 I have tested every "leaked" and "official" version of OS 6 and have invariably gone back to OS 5. I can't afford to have an unstable device when most of my life is spent with my BlackBerry at my side. Carriers that have released offiical versions did so because the buckled under pressure from their subscribers, and they have released substandard products.

Think about it: Why have only a few carriers released OS 6 for Bold 9700. The reason is that the big carriers know, or maybe realized, that there are many problems with it. And getting it to work under all possible scenarios with all possible applications is a nightmare. A good article that explains all of this is "Why AT&T may never release OS 6 for Bold 9700" which can be found here:

i think they the carriers that have made it official have done more than enough testing on it. these official version are just about as refined OS5 was at the same stages.

Having an OS that's not supported by your carrier doesn't mean anything. The carrier's never know what they are talking about anyway. I've learned more and received more tech support from CrackBerry than the carrier ever could!

I think this is an excellent article. It is articulate and to the point. I will also take the side of the author on not mentioning hybrids. As was mentioned, the article is geared to the novice, the new user, and as such I don't believe hybrids should be included. I was on my third BB before I felt comfortable enough to explore hybrid OS's. Until a new user is comfortable installing/reinstalling the official OS, I wouldn't recommend a leaked or a hybrid to them. We have all dealt with the new users who have "bricked" their BB in the forums and their is nothing more frustrating than attempting to help a new user reload when it is clear that they don't have a clue what they did or how to fix it. They expect a "magic wand" and poof, the BB is back up and running. Well it just doesn't work that way and hybrids are among the most demanding of a user understanding how the OS works, how to install/uninstall, and what to look for to help make that decision. So while there is certainly a place for discussing hybrids, I don't think this article is it.

"No matter how much you want that update, you're out of luck if you don't have a BlackBerry Torch."
based on article "Top BlackBerry Torch Phones" at
I wouldn't argue that blackberry torch phones are one of the best phones after the Z10, but why would we need it to be a torch phone for us to get the operating system?