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How to Get Pro Features in Windows Home Versions with Third Party Tools

Some of the most powerful Windows features are only available in Professional or Enterprise editions of Windows. However, you don’t have to upgrade to Windows Professional to use these powerful features – use these free alternatives instead.

These features include the ability to access your desktop remotely, encrypt your hard drive, run Windows XP in a window, change advanced settings in group policy, use Windows Media Center, run an operating system off a USB stick, and more.

Remote Desktop Server

Home versions of Windows come with the ability to connect to remote desktop sessions, but they can’t act as remote desktop servers. If you want to access your home Windows desktop remotely – either over the network or over the Internet — you can use VNC instead. VNC works similarly to remote desktop — after you install a VNC server on your home computer, you can install a VNC client on another computer and access your home computer remotely. VNC clients are available for all platforms – Windows, Mac, Linux, even Android and iOS.

UltraVNC is a good, open-source solution – it includes both a server and a client application. There are also other, less-geeky alternatives to VNC, such as TeamViewer.

Read More: Help Computer Users Remotely with TeamViewer and Access Desktops on the Road with TeamViewer for Android & iPhone

BitLocker Drive Encryption

BitLocker is a full-disk encryption feature that encrypts the data on your hard disk. At boot, the data is decrypted, often with a password. Assuming you leave your computer powered off, people can’t access your data without your password or key – your files will look like random gibberish without it. Unfortunately, BitLocker is only available in Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 8 Professional – you can’t even use BitLocker if you have Windows 7 Professional edition.

Instead, you can use TrueCrypt to encrypt an entire hard disk – you’ll have to type your password or provide your key at boot time, before Windows loads. TrueCrypt can also be used to create encrypted containers and encrypt files without encrypting your entire hard drive.

Read More: Use TrueCrypt to Encrypt Your Windows System Drive and The How-To Geek Guide to Getting Started with TrueCrypt

Windows XP Mode

Windows XP mode offers a virtualized Windows XP environment on Windows 7. It’s useful for running old applications that just don’t work properly on newer versions of Windows. Essentially, Windows XP mode is a pre-packed Windows XP virtual machine that uses Microsoft’s Virtual PC.

If you’d like to use Windows XP mode (and you have an old Windows XP disc lying around), you don’t have to upgrade – you can install the free VirtualBox or VMware Player and install Windows XP in a virtual machine. The virtual machine will function similarly to Windows XP mode, allowing you to run your old software in a window on your desktop.

This also works on Windows 8, where Windows XP Mode has been removed.

Read More: Create an XP Mode for Windows 7 Home Versions & Vista

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Group Policy Settings

Professional versions of Windows include the Group Policy editor, which can easily change some of the more advanced settings in Windows. It’s often used by system administrators to tweak settings for large networks of Windows PCs – however, you may find it useful even on your home computer. The local Group Policy editor provides an easy way to change a variety of settings, and you may come across web pages on the web telling you to change a certain setting in Group Policy.

However, much of the time, you can change the same setting in the Windows registry – although it may be less user-friendly. If you ever come across a group policy setting you want to change, do a quick web search and look for the corresponding registry entry you can change.

If you also have access to computer running a Professional edition of Windows, you can determine which registry value a group policy setting modifies and change it yourself.

Read More: The 20 Best Registry Hacks to Improve Windows and How to See Which Registry Settings a Group Policy Object Modifies

Back Up to Network (Windows 7)

The Windows Backup feature included with Windows 7 won’t allow you to backup to a network location unless you have the Professional version of Windows. If you’re using the Home editions of Windows 7, you can use another backup solution.

Microsoft’s SyncToy is a popular, free backup tool that works on Windows 7. You can also create a scheduled task that runs SyncToy for automatic backups. If you’re looking for another option, the open-source FreeFileSync is another solid application that’s worked well for us.

Read More: Synchronize Folders Between Computers and Drives with SyncToy 2.1 and Schedule SyncToy to Run Automatically With Task Scheduler in Windows 7

Windows Media Center (Windows 8)

With Windows 8, Windows Media Center has been removed from the Home edition of Windows. You can upgrade your copy of Windows to the Professional edition, or try a third-party media center solution if you depend on Windows Media Center. One extremely popular one is XBMC, although you may also be interested in Plex.

Read More: How to Sync Your Media Across Your Entire House with XBMC

Windows To Go (Windows 8)

Windows To Go is a brand-new feature in Windows 8. It allows Windows 8 to be installed on a USB drive and run on any computer – just plug the USB drive into any computer, restart the computer, and you’ll be using your Windows 8 environment. Unfortunately, this feature is only available in Windows 8 Enterprise – even Professional edition users don’t get to use this.

If you want to install an operating system on a USB stick and take it with you, running it on any computer you please, you can use a Linux distribution like Ubuntu. Use UNetbootin to install Ubuntu or any other Linux distribution you like to a USB stick – you’ll have your own personal browser (both Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome run on Linux) and desktop that you can take with you and run on any computer.

Read More: Create a Bootable Ubuntu USB Flash Drive

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Do you have use another alternative to a feature found only in the more expensive editions of Windows? Leave a comment and let us know about it!

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 09/12/12

Comments (23)

  1. r

    For me the most important pro-feature that Win Home versions don`t have is the ability to join a domain. They can access domain resources, but can’t be managed by Active Directory & have access to network resources. No stable third party tools for that either.

  2. Naman

    And how would you make a bootable USB of Windows XP and 7? Needed to run AV programs.

  3. TheFu

    Yumi – also from pendrivelinux works every time. UNetbootin hasn’t always worked for me.

    VNC is not secure. A VPN is always needed if you are doing remote desktop over the internet. PPTP-based VPNs have been cracked twice, including recently. Don’t use them folks. Use an IPsec-based or OpenVPN.

    Check out Duplicati http://www.duplicati.com/ for network backups. It will backup to storage services like S3 (and others) or any FTP or WebDAV or ssh account AND encrypt before sending using AES-256 or GPG. This is a backup solution that meets all the “best practices” for backups.
    1. Stable / Works Every Time
    2. Automatic
    3. Different Storage Media
    4. Fast
    5. Efficient
    6. Secure
    7. Versioned
    8. Offsite / Remote
    9. Restore Tested

  4. MJ

    @Naman: You can run some antivirus programs on Ubuntu, to scan Windows partitions (with ClamAV for instance). Another alternative I use a lot is to boot from a Windows 7 Install DVD or Repair Disk. There are some utilities that work in that environment, such as SuperAntiSpyware. Not sure if ClamWin Antivirus would run there too, I can’t remember now.

  5. MSwhip

    I would be interested in using a feature that is only availlable in Windows Ultimate. That is to be able to customize a very pedestrian wired keyboad to reproduce the regular english and also the special characters for spanish. And have it set to be able to toggle between both languages

    Thank you

    Note:
    i have used both the “Alt+ numbers” method and also a little program for just the changes.

    Now i want tthe whole enchilada with the full keyboard to work in both languages.

    Is it possible to do this without having to upgrade to the Ultimate version which is the Windows version that does it but only for a paltry cost of over $300

  6. amco

    I´m happily running Win 7 Starter as delivered on my Toshiba laptop, but can´t run a second independent monitor using my Encore ENMUV-2 ext. USB video connector – seems this is a feature of Windows Pro?

    Is there a simple solution ?

  7. r

    @ amco: unfortunately, no –it’s an edition with many limitations, & made mostly to be used on net-books. If you make an external VGA connection the hardware may switch to that as the primary display, but It won’t allow dual or extended. You would need to upgrade at least to Win7 Home ed.

  8. Zakariah

    Or just use Windows Anytime Upgrade.

  9. Ryan

    You can back up to a network location in Win 7 Home Premium by creating a virtual hard drive and storing it on a network location. I’m using this method, very successfully, on my home network and piping my backups to my Ubuntu 12.04 Server…

  10. Gokulesh

    Hey Guys

    To install windows 8/7/Vista on USB, download “Universal USB Installer”.
    You can install almost any OS using this tool on USB/Pendrives(even on memory cards with card reader).

    Go to http://www.pendrivelinux.com/universal-usb-installer-easy-as-1-2-3/
    to download.
    Also the software itself downloads ISO’s of OSes,if you dont have installation disk/ISO.
    You can run live platform of linux,but not windows.USB only just becomes an installation disk.

  11. Gokulesh

    If you need to install bootable win 7 on USB you must need a pendrive of more than 16GB free space.

  12. raghavnk

    The Home edition of Win7 doesn’t have the feature of being able to use a virtual drive. Is there a work-around for this?

  13. dan

    xbmc does not have the ability to record television shows like media center does. Now that sagetv is gone does anyone have dvr recommendations that dont require a subscription fee for program guides??

  14. acubley

    @raghavnk
    At least in Home Premium, you can attach a VHD. Go into Disk Managment –> Action –> Attach VHD.

  15. Richard

    @Dan: I was going to say the same thing, XBMC is not a like for like replacement for WMC given that XBMC cannot record live TV.

    If you want an alternative which supports TV then I would suggest looking at Media Portal – although the user interface isn’t remotely as slick as WMC.

  16. Gregg DesElms

    Excellent article. Except for that my choices for at least a couple of the utilities you recommend are different, the basic concept is one I’ve been using/recommending for a long time.

    One would think that someone would have developed a third party equivalent of the Group Policy Editor by now. I mean, if third party registry editors are routinely developed, why not third part Group Policy Editors. It’s mostly just a permissions issue, and it’s easy enough to enable a third party product to edit group policy, even in a “Home” version of Windows. There’s a big market vacuum there. Interesting.

    Anyway… thanks!

    _________________________________
    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

  17. Hariks

    If one opens the properties of My computer, there is an option to upgrade to Windows Ultimate by entering a key of Windows 7 Ultimate – freely available in net. But remember to disconnect the PC from network while doing this “upgrade”. After a while it will ask to reboot. Reboot and you have Windows 7 Ultimate.

    Enjoy…

  18. r

    @: Hariks:
    ya,…don’t do this, it’s not free. Your key might allow an upgrade but you’ll only have about 30days until they asks you for your new Win7 Ultimate key to re-activate it. Your computer is unique to them & they know your Product ID from the time you try to download any updates, service-packs or anything directly from Microsoft.

    Microsoft doesn’t give away Win7 operating systems or upgrades…would you?

  19. Watch-this-get-deleted

    Regarding Windows 8 Media Center options:

    XBMC and Plex do not (easily) work with TV tuner cards/devices. XBMC is great for other HTPC use. But if you have a TV tuner card or other similar device then you can expect headaches getting it to work. XBMC will still work wonderfully for almost every other function, just not for live TV unless you stream it from the net somehow (which really negates the reason to even have a TV card).

    The problem many authors writing about Home Theater PC’s (HTPC) and apps like Media Center versus XBMC is that they seem to forget is the ability to incorporate other hardware like TV tuner cards/devices – which is and absolute requirement if you even think you may want to record television shows (DVR them like a TiVO or something, IOW).

    It seems that fuhrer Balmer has spoken! Either upgrade to Windows 8 pro or don’t even think of using Media Center – or your TV tuner card/device! (Please also don’t confuse Microsoft Media Player which is an entirely different product too – we’ll all still get that like it or not.)

  20. Tom Reaney

    Are there any tools to get Windows 7Home Premium to join a domain?

  21. Jimmy

    I’ve got a Toshiba netbook that came with Win7 Starter. I upgraded to Professional and added another 1 GB of memory. I read somewhere that if I get Professional, I’ll be able to again use Outlook Express in WIN XP Mode. Is this correct or was I dreaming?

  22. Jimmy

    Sould have said upgraded to Premium.

  23. Richard

    For several years I have been using Windows Vista, and have yet to have a problem with it. Actually, some of the downloads to Windows Vista also function in Windows 7. When I look at the price for Windows 7 at places like Walmarts and other various computer stores, I simply smile, because I have learned my Windows Vista does just about everything Windows 7 offers. Actually, I believe when windows Vista came out, far too many people had became so attached to Windows XP, they didn’t actually understand how much better Windows Vista actually is, and refused to learn Windows Vista operating system. Also, with today’s ridicules high prices for operating systems, I will simply continue using Windows Vista, for which there are considerable add-ons, most of which are free or very cheap to purchase.

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