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Windows 10 update process sticks out in 2016 like Rudolph's red nose

The last year was a big one for Windows 10. It saw the free upgrade window expire, Windows 10 Pro users lose some key features and sweeping changes come to the update process.

The beloved Christmas carol "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" starts with a list of the old familiar reindeer -- Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen and so on -- and then asks the audience if they're familiar with Rudolph before diving into the story that made him the most famous reindeer of all.

The story of Windows 10 is pretty similar. IT professionals have heard of all the basic features by now -- Continuum and Windows Hello and Microsoft Edge and so on. But it's the Windows 10 update process that stuck out like a red-nosed reindeer this year and is sure to go down in history.

So pull up an ice block and lend an ear. Learn more about the twists and turns of Windows upgrades and the story behind the Windows 10 update process that wound through 2016. Don't worry, there are no Bumbles lurking below.

Free upgrade lights the way to Windows 10 adoption

it's the Windows 10 update process that stuck out like a red-nosed reindeer this year and is sure to go down in history.

For the first year of Windows 10, Microsoft offered a free upgrade to users who worked with the Standard or Pro editions of Windows 7, 8 and 8.1. So it's not too surprising that Windows 10 adoption was hot out of the gates. There were already 22 million enterprise devices running Windows 10 in January 2016, according to Microsoft.

"If you already have Windows 7 or Windows 8 ... it's foolish not to adopt [Windows 10] for free," said Jon Booth, IT director at Bear Valley Community Healthcare District in Big Bear Lake, Calif. in April.

Windows 10 also appealed to organizations early on because it integrates better than previous versions with enterprise apps such as Skype for Business and Office 365. And its cross-platform approach powered by Continuum helps users seamlessly transition from one device type to the next.

Windows 10 Pro admins can't join in any reindeer games

Microsoft promised skeptical IT pros that the free upgrade was not a bait and switch, and the company would not add a subscription fee after organizations migrated. It didn't, but the company did pull some features out from under Windows 10 Pro users with the Anniversary Update in August, in hopes of motivating them to pay up to upgrade to Windows 10 Enterprise.

For instance, IT shops working with Windows 10 Pro could not use some common Group Policy settings. No more disabling Windows Store apps and no more blocking users from installing third-party apps. Admins can still filter third-party apps out of Windows Store suggestions, but this still blows open a security hole because users basically have free reign to download any apps they want.

The Anniversary Update also stripped Windows 10 Pro users of Microsoft App-V and User Environment Virtualization access.

Microsoft enlists Windows 10 to guide its update sleigh

There are two sides to the new update approach in Windows 10, which the company extended to Windows 7 and 8.1 in October. On one hand, the automatic monthly updates bundle all the new patches and features into one package that simplifies the entire process. On the other, because the updates are automatic, admins cannot block a patch that doesn't work with their deployment. Admins get a preview of the next month's update so they can test it, but if something isn't compatible and they don't figure out how to fix it, there isn't anything they can do to stop it.

It is a big change from how updates worked in the past. Before the switch, Windows 7 and 8.1 admins had complete control over when they updated and could search for specific updates to pick and choose what worked for them. The obvious idea behind Microsoft's changes in Windows 7 and 8.1 is to get IT shops used to the Windows 10 update process and guide them toward the new OS.

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