BlackBerry First Steps - Operating Systems 

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