Does the new alter field tool in 10.2.1 require that the enterprise geodatabase be upgraded to 10.2.1 in addition to the clients? Our organization just went through a major, months long upgrade from 9.3 to 10.2 on all clients and our SDE geodatabase. If I could get away with just updating my client to 10.2.1 and not the SDE geodatabase to get this functionality that would be great.
I have not tried it, but my suspicion is that it will work. Based on the GDB compatibility matrix for 10.2, it appears that client-GDB connectivity is supported for several previous releases. Assuming that same logic still holds true for the 10.2.1 release, you should be ok. That being said, I think 10.2.1 is considered to be similar to a service pack rather than a "new version". Esri is not issuing SPs now in the same fashion as before; instead they are issuing dot releases. So I think a 10.2.1 client should be fine with a 10.2 GDB. I will say, however, that upgrading your GDB from 10.2 to 10.2.1 shouldn't be painful. The leap from 9.3.x is much, much worse than this path. The 10.2.1 Upgrade Geodatabase GP tool should not encounter any new issues that the 10.2 tool did not already. Moreover, it really is best practice to keep everything in the same in terms of release/build numbers. Can you try upgrading in a test database first and use the alter field tool to see how it behaves?
10.2.1 could be thought of as "10.2 SP1". The main difference is that the nominal release available for download no longer needs upgrade.
Esri supports three major releases at a time. All 9.x releases are now retired.
Industry best practice is to apply service packs soon, but not too soon. If the next SP has shipped, you've slipped into "too late".
ArcGIS allows you to upgrade the applications before the database, but that does not mean you should let it lag far behind. Validate for your requirements, sure, but waiting too long causes a different (and generally worse) set of problems.
Upgrading healthy geodatabases is an anticlimactic experience ("Wow! Done already?"), while unhealthy geodatabase upgrades are an adventure. Time since last upgrade is a health component, but the real factor is data management practices over that time.
Thanks for the reply, but think I'm going to have to phone ESRI UK. I've been using ESRI for years and doen the search as you suggested which indicates that tool should be available at all licensce levels. It certainly is not visible in my Data Management>Fields tool box....