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Do Android phones as a rule allow you to upgrade the OS version at will, or does this require special support from the manufacturer or carrier?

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You receive updates from the carrier.

You can circumvent this by rooting your phone and installing a custom rom (or stock rom, if available) to get the latest version of Android.

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Each carrier needs to add their customizations to the source code. That's why not everyone gets the new OS updates at the same time and why some early Android phones will never get an update. –  Al Everett Aug 10 '10 at 12:43
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