Intuit is constantly releasing updates to its programs to fix problems that arise among the real world users. These are free and are different than an upgrade, which is the new year's program (2010, 2011, 2012, etc.), which you have to pay for.
To tell how up to date your program is, hit the Control and 1 keys while you are in the program. A Product Information window will pop up, such as the example below from my 2011 program after I ran the most recent update, Release 8.
There are two main ways to upgrade your program.
First is to run the Update QuickBooks function from the Help menu in the program, which is the method I had been using until a few years ago.
My current choice for updating the program is the manual option, where I download the newest release and run it on each of the computers that has that version of the program. This means I only have to download the files, which are very large (388 mb for R8), one time instead of separately for each computer. With our very slow and limited internet service, that is very useful.
The other big benefit is the fact that the updates are normally available about two weeks earlier on the manual update page than they are in the update function from inside the program.
You can find updates for almost all versions of QB on the update page:
|From TaxGuru's QuickBooks Tips|
Intuit usually puts out a news release when they issue new updates, but I also like to check the update page every so often to see if the dozen or more versions of QB I am running are all up to date. Since they only have back to the 2004 program, I am pretty much SOL for verifying the status of my 1999–2003 programs; but those programs are technically obsolete and shouldn't even be used nowadays.