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On distros like Ubuntu, there is (or was) an upgrade ability from release to release. You had the option to upgrade every 6 months when the next release came out (every April and October). Since i have not gone beyond 10.10 with it, I can't say for certain they carried this through with the Unity releases (11.04 and beyond). When you were notified there were updates you could download, the update process had an "Upgrade" button displayed when the next release came out. Clicked on it and the upgrade took place.