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I'm sorry if this is too trivial of a question, but this is the first time I've updated OS where my computer is loaded up with important third party apps. Am I correct in thinking that only a factory reset would remove apps (aside from deleting them individually)?

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  • Make sure the apps you use are compatible with Sierra before you update. Most things should work, but I have found one or two that don't run on Sierra. But you should be fine updating. – TMHahn Sep 25 '16 at 18:31
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To add to @Tetsujin 's answer as well as give it more depth, that entirely depends on the application it is and the version you currently have. Whatever version of MacOS was out when your last update was released is the version that update was made for, and the changes to MacOS from that point onward could all harm app stability or break the app entirely... or do nothing at all.

Different apps have different needs, and when a part of macOS gets changed and that app needs it, the app sometimes needs updating to work consistently again. Depending on the apps needs this is more frequent on some than others. The built in Stickys app for example, or TextEdit I doubt ever need updates ever because of their simplicity. The updates that come out for them would be new functionality or eye candy.

On the other hand some applications are very picky in their function. Take the older version of ProTools HD as an example, which needed an $8000 processing card in your Mac Pro to run. Updates were very frequent and the app would need several updates per MacOS release, but it pushed the hardware to the limits.

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In theory, & usually in practise, simply updating your OS will preserve all data - apps, documents, emails, pictures, music, settings & prefs etc - that were there beforehand.

A current backup is always recommended for the 1 in 1000 chance that something goes wrong.

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  • Do you have an authoritative source for that "1 in 1000 chance that something goes wrong" statement? :) – user3439894 Sep 25 '16 at 18:15
  • No. Pick a number. Some people never have issues, some always do. Probably habit-dependant. – Tetsujin Sep 25 '16 at 18:29

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