Microsoft may have claimed Windows 10 as final version of Windows, but nobody ever said it’d be simple. A little after two years in the wild, Windows 10 has no fewer than ten different editions available. Each one is the same at its core, but offers slightly different features for users with varying needs.
Along with its ever-changing features, this can make keeping track of what’s current with Windows 10 tough. Let’s look at each Windows 10 edition in turn, and see why Microsoft has created such a fragmented environment.
Windows 10 Home
We start with the baseline version of Windows 10. If you were to go into a store and buy a new laptop off the shelf, it would almost certainly have Windows 10 Home on it. True to its name, it includes the full Windows 10 experience with features that the average home user will enjoy.
You’ll find all the staples of Windows 10 inside, including Cortana, Store apps, Xbox connectivity, and support for tablet and touch features. But the Home edition leaves out some of the business-oriented features of Windows 10 Pro, which is the only other edition you can buy standalone.
Windows 10 Pro
Windows 10 Pro builds on what Home offers but includes more features intended for power users and business use. The most prominent differences are the ability to join a Pro machine to a domain, support for BitLocker encryption, and Group Policy support for easily changing settings on a company-wide scale.
Most Windows 10 machines in business use run Pro so IT professionals can use these tools to their advantage. But Windows enthusiasts can also benefit from what Pro has to offer. For example, many of the tweaks we discuss in articles are easier to change using the Group Policy Editor than in the Registry.
Pro is obviously more expensive when purchased outright, though you can upgrade your copy of Windows 10 Home to Pro for $99.
However, we don’t think it’s worth it for most home users.
You can substitute free alternatives for some of the Pro-only features. For example, TeamViewer can replace Remote Desktop and you can swap VeraCrypt for BitLocker. And no normal user of Windows at home needs to join their computer to a domain.
Windows 10 S
One of the newest editions to the lineup, Windows 10 S is a slimmed-down version of the operating system. Its most distinctive feature is that you can only install apps from the Windows Store, so it won’t work with any traditional desktop software. Microsoft Edge is the default browser and you can’t change the default search engine from Bing.
Windows 10 S is only available pre-installed on devices, and most of them are low-end and cheaper machines. Microsoft is aiming Windows 10 S at the education market, as it’s a sort of competitor to Chromebooks.
While you can upgrade Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro for $50, most home users should stay away from it. The combination of cheap hardware and limited available apps, limits what you can do with your device.
Check out our full overview of Windows 10 S for more information.
Windows 10 Enterprise
Windows 10 Enterprise is, unsurprisingly, intended for large-scale business use and only sold through Microsoft’s volume licensing. Unlike Windows 7, there’s no Ultimate edition of Windows 10 that offers the full set of Enterprise features for home users.
But that’s okay, because the extra features of Enterprise only shine in corporate deployments. The biggest feature is DirectAccess, which allows remote workers to access their company’s internal network through a connection that’s like a VPN but offers more security. AppLocker, another standout feature, lets administrators block access to specific apps. This edition also allows companies to switch to a long-term branch of Windows to avoid the regular changes of Windows 10 that might disrupt their operations.
Enterprise also features some behind-the-scenes tweaks that make it easier for IT pros to install or migrate Windows en masse in a standardized fashion. While Pro is great for small businesses, a company with thousands of employees can save money and control their setup with the Enterprise edition.
Windows 10 Education
The Education edition of Windows 10 includes all the corporate-ready features of Enterprise. As Microsoft explains, it “is effectively a variant of Windows 10 Enterprise that provides education-specific default settings.” In past versions, this included disabling Cortana by default but she’s present in current builds.
Windows 10 Education also disables tips and tricks and the “suggestions” that are just ads by a different name.
Aside from these default settings, the only big change for the Education edition is that it costs significantly less than the Enterprise version. This helps schools keep costs down while still getting a powerful edition of Windows that lets them block games and inappropriate content on PCs that students use.
Interestingly, while a computer must have Windows 10 Pro installed to upgrade to Windows 10 Enterprise, that’s not the case for the Education edition. A PC with Windows 10 Home can jump to Windows 10 Education, further reducing costs for schools.
Windows 10 Pro Education
Confused by all these similar names yet? Windows 10 Pro Education combines two existing edition names to muddy the waters further.
Like Windows 10 Education, this one is basically a different flavor of Windows 10 Pro with a few default settings specific to educational environments.
The biggest difference between Pro Education and Education is that the former is available pre-installed on new devices purchased through the K-12 program at a discount. This means that schools don’t have to go through Microsoft’s volume licensing to buy education-ready PCs. Smaller schools who lack a full IT staff or don’t need the enterprise features of Windows 10 Education can still exercise control using the features present in Windows 10 Pro Education.
Both Windows 10 Education editions include a “Set Up School PCs” app that guides administrators through creating a standard image of Windows.
They can select options like removing bloatware apps, automatically joining PCs to the school domain, and adjusting Windows Update to avoid restarting during school hours. After running through this process once, IT staff can place the package on a flash drive and apply it to other machines quickly.Windows 10 Mobile
Windows 10 Mobile
Did you know that Windows Phone still exists?
It’s called Windows 10 Mobile now, but it’s the next iteration of running a version of Windows for your smartphone. This is part of Microsoft’s plan to have one unified operating system on every device. It lets you access the same new Store apps available on desktop Windows 10, along with the Continuum feature that lets you use your phone like a PC on the big screen.
While it’s an improvement over Windows Phone 8.1, Windows Mobile is still largely irrelevant in the mobile sphere as Android and iOS reign supreme. Thanks to a botched rollout and continued lack of solid apps, Windows 10 Mobile has suffered from limited use.
Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise
The Enterprise version of Windows 10 Mobile is almost the same as the consumer version. As you’d expect, it offers business-focused features like deferring and managing updates, controlling telemetry, and more powerful rollouts.
If you’re “lucky” enough to use a Windows 10 Mobile phone for your job, this is likely the version running on your device.
Windows 10 IoT (Internet of Things)
For past Windows versions, Microsoft provided a slimmed-down edition called Windows Embedded. Windows XP Embedded, for instance, was (and unfortunately still is) wildly popular for powering light devices like ATMs, cash registers, and time clocks.
Embedded editions of Windows contain only the essential components, reducing their footprint on the machine while still allowing the device to take advantage of Windows’ power. Now, the successor to Windows Embedded is known as Windows IoT.
As you surely know, the IoT has brought internet connections to everyday objects and this Windows edition serves to let hobbyists and enterprise users alike take advantage of it. Windows 10 IoT can run on popular small devices that don’t have beefy resource pools.
Microsoft offers two flavors: Windows 10 IoT Core and Windows 10 IoT Enterprise. Core is free for anyone to download and you can install it on devices like a Raspberry Pi. The Enterprise flavor is equivalent to Windows 10 Enterprise and thus more powerful. Businesses can install it on industrial robots, cash registers, and other IoT devices.
Windows 10 Team
The Microsoft Surface family includes an interactive whiteboard known as the Surface Hub. Like other smart boards, it’s designed for business use so employees can collaborate and video conference between locations. This device runs a special version of Windows 10 called Windows 10 Team.
Windows 10 Team is based on Enterprise, but offers a few differences since it’s tailor-made for a giant board. The user interface is optimized for a mega touchscreen. Anyone can walk up and sign into a low-level user account without logging in. When a session ends, the system deletes local files if you don’t save them to OneDrive. And like Windows 10 S, you can’t install traditional desktop apps.
Team is a specialized version of Windows 10 as it only applies to one device. You’ll probably never encounter it.
Windows 10 Pro for Workstations
Because the 11 above editions weren’t enough, Microsoft recently decided to announce yet another version of Windows 10. This one is called Pro for Workstations, and it’s designed for high-end PCs that run demanding workloads.
New features include a “resilient file system,” persistent memory, faster file sharing, and expanded hardware support.
Essentially, this results in a lot of back-end improvements that make the everyday work of computing information all day run more smoothly. Microsoft explains that these changes will result in less data corruption, transfer data over a network faster, and utilize RAM up to 6TB.
Windows 10 Pro for Workstations will launch alongside the Fall Creators Update in fall 2017. Unless you have a powerhouse PC that runs calculations all day, every day, this edition will likely only see use in business.
A Quick Summary
That was a lot to keep track of. In case you got lost, here’s a brief summary of every Windows 10 version:
- Windows 10 Home is the standard offering and includes everything that home users need.
- Windows 10 Pro builds on Home and includes additional features for power users and small business use.
- Windows 10 S is a stripped-down Chromebook competitor that only lets you install Windows Store apps.
- Windows 10 Enterprise is only available through volume purchasing and features advanced features for large-scale corporate deployment.
- Windows 10 Education is an offshoot of Enterprise with education-specific default settings and lower pricing for schools.
- Windows 10 Pro Education is available pre-installed on PCs that schools can purchase at a discount and offers an education-specific flavor of Pro.
- Windows 10 Mobile is Microsoft’s mobile operating system that’s not too popular.
- Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise allows businesses to manage their employees’ Windows 10 Mobile devices.
- Windows 10 IoT replaces Windows Embedded, a lightweight version of Windows that hobbyists or businesses can install on small computing devices as well as robots and point-of-sale applications.
- Windows 10 Team is a specialized version of Windows 10 that only runs on the Surface Hub smart whiteboard.
- Windows 10 Pro for Workstations supports powerful PCs that regularly run intense calculations.
Too Many Versions?
There you have it: every major version of Windows 10 that’s on the market. But even this doesn’t account for the various Windows builds floating around in the wild.
For instance, PCs with Intel Clover Trail processors can’t upgrade to the Creators Update, so Microsoft is supporting those specific devices with the Anniversary Update until 2023. Since the Anniversary Update will end general support in 2018, this adds yet another level of fragmentation to Windows 10.
Who knows how many new editions of Windows 10 we’ll see in the future? Perhaps Microsoft will retire some as they drop out of use. Thankfully, as a home user, you only have a few versions to keep track of. Let businesses handle the rest.
Which Windows 10 version are you running now? Were any of the other versions a surprise to you? Tell us which one is the most interesting and leave your thoughts down in the comments!