Windows 10 Professional isn’t just for cubicle dwellers who have no choice in the matter. While users who own a ‘professional’ PC like the Surface Pro 3 will automatically be upgraded to this higher-end version of the OS, smaller businesses and PC enthusiasts, as well as contractors and sole proprietors, may also weigh the benefits of the Pro version vs. Windows 10 Home.
Windows 10 Professional doesn’t take anything away from Home users; it simply adds more sophisticated features. It’s a costly choice, though: $99 for a Windows 10 Pro Pack that takes you from a licensed copy of Windows 10 Home to the Professional version. This applies to Windows 7 Starter, Windows 7 Home Basic, Windows 7 Home Premium, or Windows 8.1 users, who are only eligible for Windows 10 Home.
Microsoft created a useful webpage for comparing the different Windows 10 versions, breaking down the reasons to upgrade to Windows Pro into four categories: the fundamentals, management and deployment, security, and Windows updates. All of them have some relevance for power users and more traditional businesses alike. While there are dozens of differences (check our review of Windows 10 for the details), five key aspects of Windows 10 Professional will help you decide whether the upgrade is worth it for you.
Microsoft’s encryption software has been developed and updated since Windows Vista, and it’s been built into Windows 10 as well. Since Windows 8.1, BitLocker has offered the option to encrypt the Windows boot drive and other fixed drives within the system, as well as USB keys and external drives.
BitLocker is especially handy for traveling, even if it’s just to a local cafe. Locking down your data isn’t 100-percent foolproof, but it’s a start. If a drive is encrypted, BitLocker will encrypt other files that are added to it. You also have the option to suspend encryption or remove it entirely. Files moved from a BitLocker encrypted drive to another drive are automatically decrypted.
Of course, you’ll need a password to make it all work, preferably as strong as possible. If you don’t have that password, you’ll need a recovery key to regain access: a code that can be saved to a file, to a Microsoft account, or even printed out and saved. But if you forget the password and lose the recovery key, you’re stuck—you’ll lose access to that data forever.
A cloud storage solution like OneDrive can be a great way to store your files, but a USB key encrypted with Bitlocker and clipped to a keychain can provide an additional layer of security and keep precious files close at hand.
Remote Desktop Connection
Windows 10 Home machines and Windows 10 Professional machines can initiate Remote Desktop Connections, such that the “master” machine controls the slave machine and all of its resources. (Doing so blanks the display on the “slave” device.) Only Windows 10 Professional machines can be remotely controlled, however—not Windows 10 Home machines.
Windows 10 Home machines can be remotely assisted, which means that the Windows 10 “master” machine controls the “slave” machine, and the “slave” display mirrors the master display. Remote Assistance is designed as an educational tool, so that a remote technician can show you how to adjust your graphics settings, for example, by moving your mouse.
The upshot is that work machines can be accessed from home, but home machines can be controlled only from work. If you run a small business, Remote Desktop Connection is another reason to consider Windows 10 Professional.
Not many business professionals will probably care about virtualization, the ability to wall off a portion of your hard drive into a virtual PC, complete with its own operating system. But for enthusiasts—especially those who wish to continue testing Insider builds without risking their main system—Hyper-V is just the thing.
Virtualization creates a secure operating environment within your PC that allows you to run different operating systems, including Linux, future builds of Windows 10, and even older versions of Windows. (Just make sure you still have valid license keys for the operating system and a PC processor that supports virtualization—not all older models do.
Once you have Windows 10 Professional, you’ll still have to install Hyper-V manually. You can begin typing “Hyper-V” in the Search box. Windows will suggest that you install some optional features. You’ll be given a list of options, where you can install Hyper-V. Our sister site Infoworld offers a great introduction to Hyper-V.
Microsoft Update for Business
Windows 10 Home pushes patches to your PC immediately, allowing you to defer installation for a few hours, but no longer. For some, that might not be the most desirable option. Windows 10 Professional offers an option.
Before Windows 10 launched, I would have argued that enthusiasts would want to remain on the Windows Insider branch, testing out new patches as quickly as possible. Even small business owners wouldn’t mind using Windows 10 Home, I thought, as who wouldn’t want to receive the latest patches as quickly as Microsoft could deploy them?
And then, as Windows 10 neared, reports circulated of new updates breaking multimonitor setups with certain Nvidia cards. A firmware update that Microsoft pushed to the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3 failed, and had to be reissued. And by default, Windows doesn’t tell you that updates or patches need to be installed.
Part of the issue is a fundamental conflict between hardware makers and Microsoft. Microsoft thinks the latest drivers should be routed through its own servers, while hardware makers reserve that right for themselves. That can cause some problems around which drivers are considered “the latest.”
In other words, patches do occasionally cause things to go haywire, which means that Home users could wade through some wonky updates as Windows 10 evolves. Murphy’s Law says things will go wrong. Bugs will happen. Updates will be applied. If you’re a conservative type, Windows 10 Professional lets you defer updates for up to several months (security updates excepted). That chance to wait and see if anything blows up might add an extra layer of peace of mind.
Features for businesses first
Several features in Windows 10 Professional are aimed squarely at the business market. Domain join, for example, allows you to bring in your own PC and connect it to the office domain. Group policy management allows an IT admin to control which PCs do what. And if you’re running an ancient Web app at work that doesn’t work with Edge or Internet Explorer 11, the Enterprise Mode Internet Explorer allows you to drop into an Internet Explorer 8 mode inside your browser. Likewise, if your business needs specialized enterprise apps, an admin can lock down the Windows Store to make sure employees get those, and nothing else. There’s also the ability to join Azure Active Directory, with single sign-on capabilities.
Some users may find some value in Assigned Access, which takes a Windows tablet and allows it to run only a particular application. Normally this setup is used for a dedicated kiosk, but it might kid-proof a tablet, too.
Get it for the flexibility
Moving to Windows 10 Professional makes sense for people who could use its more advanced features. It costs money, though, so don't feel compelled to upgrade unless you really need them. Windows 10 Home will suffice for the majority of individual or family users.