You want a new PC or laptop and by now you've probably made up your mind as to whether it should be a Windows, Mac (or even Linux) device. Go for Windows and your choice is more complicated as there's Windows 10 S, Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro.
Let's narrow things down a bit and remove Windows 10 S from the equation. This is a new version of the OS that is aimed at students and teachers, though you may find it on some 'regular' laptops, such as the Surface Laptop from Microsoft.
The key difference between 10 S and regular Windows 10 is that you are limited to installing apps from the built-in Windows Store. Everything else is exactly the same. If you need to install third-party apps on your laptop you will have to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, which is offered as a free upgrade on the Surface Laptop until 31 December 2017.
At least in this respect, choosing between Windows 10 S and Pro shouldn't be too difficult - if you need anything you're missing you can simply upgrade. But an advantage of sticking to 10 S will be its improved security, since apps are only downloaded from the curated Windows Store, and then run in a safe container on the laptop.
So that's Windows 10 S taken care of.
What are the main differences between Windows 10 Home and Pro?
There are many things both Windows 10 and Windows 10 Pro can do, but just a few features that are supported only by Pro. To simplify things we've listed only the Windows 10 Pro features that aren't also in Windows 10 Home in the table below.
|Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Pro|
|Create and join a domain (work network)||No||Yes|
|Group policy management||No||Yes|
|Enterprise Mode Internet Explorer||No||Yes|
|Windows Store for Business||No||Yes|
|Windows Update for Business||No||Yes|
|Max supported RAM||128GB||2TB|
If most of these features are meaningless to you, that's no surprise: most people don't need the extra features in Windows 10 Pro. It's really designed for businesses.
Just watch out for very cheap offers as you may be emailed merely an activation key which may or may not work. It's best to stick to the official retail versions - there are no upgrade versions as with previous versions of Windows.
Windows 10 Pro features explained
So what are those extra features in Windows 10 Pro and - more importantly - do you need them if you're considering upgrading or installing Windows on a PC or laptop that will be used at home?
BitLocker is encryption software which allows security conscious users to fully secure their drives from potential hackers. In Windows 10 Pro Microsoft has made some fine adjustments to the service.
‘With BitLocker,’ explained Joe Belfiore, the Corporate Vice President of Microsoft’s Operating Systems Group, ‘the end user faces an all or nothing decision for the entire drive to be encrypted, and it doesn’t provide for very much flexibility in the way files move around. We’re solving those problems.’
The new iteration of BitLocker allows users to encrypt individual files and keep them alongside unencrypted ones. Plus they can now be used in the same way on USB sticks, improving the way in which files can be shared between those with the proper clearance to read them.
Remote Desktop Connection
Both Windows 10 Home and Pro can start Remote Desktop Connection sessions, but only PCs running Windows 10 Pro can be remotely controlled. Windows 10 Home machines can only be assisted remotely, and this is mainly for an expert to show a home user how to change settings, for example.
Windows Update for Business
In Windows 10 Pro you get the option to defer updates, but this option doesn't really exist in Home. Microsoft forces patches and updates to Home machines automatically. You can stop them for a few hours, but that's it, even in the latest Creators Update.
The ability to defer is designed to prevent buggy updates from affecting business PCs, and updates can be put off for several months.
Virtualisation is another benefit of Windows 10 Pro, although few will want to use it. It's like having a built-in VirtualBox, although you'll still have to install Hyper-V on Windows 10 Pro manually. You'll also need to have a CPU which supports virtualisation.
Windows 10 Pro for Workstations
It's worth noting that Microsoft has announced this new version of Pro which is made specifically for more powerful PCs. It will arrive with the Fall Creators Update.
Built for 'high-end' machines, the firm promises 'unique support for server grade PC hardware and is designed to meet demanding needs of mission critical and compute intensive workloads'.
Features include a resilient file system, persistent memory, faster file sharing and expanded hardware support.
Domain and other business features
Group Policy Management and access to the Windows 10 Business Store are other features reserved for WIndows 10 Pro. Microsoft also lists the ability to join Azure Active Directory, with a single sign-on to cloud hosted apps.
Only Windows 10 Pro support joining (or creating) a domain, which allows PCs to be added to a corporate network. With Windows 10 Home, you can't do this and you're pushed to use a Microsoft account rather than a local user account. This means any laptop or PC you want to use at work and access files on servers will almost certainly need to be running Windows 10 Pro.
Assigned Access lets a sysadmin restrict a Windows tablet to run only a certain app (a very specific benefit which will apply to only a few).
Some features were removed compared to previous versions of Windows. We've outlined the worst Windows 10 sacrifices in our separate guide.
Which features do they have in common?
All versions of Windows 10 come with Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant, that can make calendar entries, take dictation, open applications and local files, search the web, and give directions, all from voice commands on your PC.
Cortana is now available for Android and iPhones, alongside the full integration it enjoys on Windows Phone. You can read here how to use Cortana in Windows 10.
The Microsoft Edge browser is also available on both versions. This break from Internet Explorer is an interesting one, and Edge certainly has enough features to make it a worthy adversary to Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, although it still falls behind on add-ons.
It offers a stripped-down Reading Mode to declutter articles online, an Instapaper/Pocket style Reading List for saving articles you don’t have time to read there and then, plus the ability to annotate and share web pages. For more information check out our how to use Edge browser in Windows 10 guide.
As Windows continues its voyage into a touch-compatible future, Microsoft has made some significant adjustments to the user interface on both Home and Pro. Gone is the overbearing and oft confusing Windows 8 touch-first layout, replaced instead with a modern take on the Windows 7 desktop.
This doesn’t mean touch has been left behind; instead Windows can now detect the type of hardware you are using and offer the appropriate interface. This feature is called Continuum and should make the new Windows far more attractive to the majority of users, most of whom don’t own a touchscreen laptop or Windows tablet.
A welcome addition to Windows 10 is a fully integrated version of Virtual Desktops. This feature has been around in past iterations of Windows, but always required additional software to get it going. Now you'll be able to create different workspaces on your PC very easily thanks to a new Task View option. You can also drag and drop open applications onto different desktops, making the whole process smooth, fast, and simple. To learn more about this helpful feature read our guide to using virtual desktops in Windows 10.
The other main upgrade to Windows that can be found of both Home and Pro is universal apps. This idea is a simple one, in which any universal app you buy from the Windows Store will work on any of your devices, be they PC, tablet, phone, or even the Xbox One.
Windows 10 Home will suffice for the vast majority of users who just want to browse the web, do a little work, and manage their media files. The benefits of the Pro version focus on security and compatibility, but of course the value of these features will come down to whether you actually intend to use them or not, and most home users won't.