Some of our readers asked us to explain what are all those features that can be added to or removed from your Windows installation. Even though all of them have some description, the information offered by Windows is either too brief or too complex to understand for most people. That's why we decided to publish this article and walk you through every Windows feature. We also describe what each Windows feature is or does, so that you can decide for yourself whether to keep it or remove it. Let's get started:
Where to find the Windows features that can be added or removed
We describe all the features that are found in the Windows Features window. Read this guide to learn how to access it: How to add or remove (un)wanted Windows features, programs or apps.
For this tutorial, we used Windows 10 Pro with the May 2019 Update. Other versions and editions of Windows offer a different number of optional features.
Explaining all Windows Features, one by one
After you open the Windows Features window, you see a long list of Windows features that can be added or removed. Let's walk through each of them and see what it does:
.NET Framework 3.5 (includes.NET 2.0 and 3.0) – a software development framework created by Microsoft. Many desktop programs and games commonly use it. Windows 10 includes by default .NET Framework 4.5, which is newer. If you have older programs or games that need this version to run, you might want to install it.
.NET Framework 4.5 Advanced Services – these advanced services include ASP.NET 4.5 (a server-side web application framework) and WCF Services - they are used to implement and deploy service-oriented architectures and distributed computing services. Does all of this sound like gibberish to you? That's because these services are relevant only to software developers and business environments with complicated infrastructures and services. Casual users won't need to install these services and should keep only the defaults that come with Windows (WCF Services, TCP Port sharing).
Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services - a basic version of Active Directory Domain Services. The purpose of this feature is to provide only the directory services. A situation in which it can be used is when you have applications that need to have access to a directory service, but they do not need to access an Active Directory database. This feature can be used even in environments where no Active Directory domains exist. As you can imagine, it is not needed for casual Windows users. It is useful only to developers and businesses that use applications which require this feature.
Containers - includes everything you need to create containers on your Windows 10 machine. They are tools that allow apps to run in their isolated boxes, with no knowledge of anything outside that box. Regular users do not need these services and tools, but everyone curious can read about them here: Containers on Windows.
Data Center Bridging - a series of standards developed by IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) for data centers. They include standards for storage, data networking, inter-process communication, and management traffic that all share the same Ethernet infrastructure.
Device Lockdown - lets you install and run services and tools that provide a specialized user interface. In common words, it lets you run your Windows 10 device in a kiosk machine, for example.
Guarded Host - allows administrators to run shielded virtual machines on Hyper-V so that they can secure them and block access to the attacks coming from malware or other malicious threats.
Hyper-V - a Windows feature that lets you create and run virtual machines. It is similar to other popular software like VirtualBox or VMware. However, Microsoft went to the next level in terms of performance: Hyper-V is faster than other similar technologies, as its processes are run at a lower level in the operating system. This means the virtual machines are closer to the physical layer (the actual hardware) and thus operate faster. If you are interested in working with virtual machines, you might want to consider installing this feature. Otherwise, you do not need it.
Internet Explorer 11 - Microsoft's old internet browser. You should keep it only if you still have to use it. Before removing it, make sure that you have another web browser installed. When you turn off this feature, its shortcuts are removed from the system, and it can no longer be used.
Internet Information Services - this feature is also known as IIS. It allows your Windows computer to act as a web server. This is useful only to software developers and to IT professionals. Once you install these services, you can access the IIS Manager from the Start Menu, and you can use any browser to access the sites that you're hosting. Go to http://localhost in your favorite browser to see an example.
Internet Information Services Hostable Web Core - another web server feature that is a lighter version of IIS. It includes only the core IIS web engine components, and it requires fewer resources to run. You can use it to host only one website, and it is useful for enabling basic web server capabilities for custom applications or for debugging applications. This feature is required only by software developers and IT professionals. Casual users do not need to install it.
Legacy Components - DirectPlay was a part of the DirectX application programming interface. It used to be a library designed for network communication. Unless you are playing old games which were developed before 2008 and require this library, you should be OK with removing it.
Media Features (Windows Media Player) - the default media player that's bundled with Windows. If you do not use it to play music or videos, you can remove it. Third-party media players are generally a better option. Windows Media Player is also used for streaming multimedia content over the local network.
Microsoft Message Queue (MSMQ) Server - MSMQ is an old service that has only one purpose: to improve communications when working with unreliable networks. This service stores messages in a buffer so whenever a connection drops it can resend them when it becomes available again. This feature is useful only for businesses which have applications requiring this service.
Microsoft Print to PDF - Windows 10 includes a default virtual printer that is available to all its users, called "Microsoft Print to PDF." It allows you to save documents as PDF files. If you do not want this feature, you can disable it.
Microsoft XPS Document Writer - provides support for Microsoft's ".XPS" file format, which is an alternative to Adobe's."PDF" format. You need this service if you want to be able to print and save XPS files.
MultiPoint Connector - allows for MultiPoint Manager and Dashboard apps to monitor and manage your Windows 10 device. This is needed only in some corporate networks, where such apps are used.
Print and Document Services - services that make it possible to use and manage printing, faxing and scanning devices. By default, the Internet Printing Client and Windows Fax and Scan services are enabled in Windows. Windows Fax and Scan allows you to use faxes and scanners. If you do not use such devices, you can disable this service. The Internet Printing Client enables you to connect and print to a printer that is connected to the local network or the internet. Other services like LPD Print Service and LPR Port Monitor are alternate printing technologies that became deprecated and are no longer used on a large scale. Scan Management is used for monitoring and managing network-connected scanners.
Remote Differential Compression API Support - is a synchronization algorithm that allows fast comparisons between synchronized files, which detects the data removed or added from their contents. You can find more information about the RDC algorithm here. This feature is used by a small number of Windows programs and apps, so it is best to keep it enabled.
Services for NFS - Lets you access files that use the NFS protocol (Network File system). If you have and use a NAS (Network Attached Storage), you probably want this feature to be enabled.
Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) - a legacy protocol created for administering devices that are connected to a network. Using this rather old protocol you can manage devices like routers, printers, computers, etc. More information about it is available here. This feature is not required unless you are an IT professional in a business network with a rather old setup.
Simple TCP/IP services (i.e., echo, daytime, etc.) - a collection of "oldies but goldies" - command line tools that include character generator, daytime, discard, echo, and quote of the day. You should not need to use them.
SMB 1.0/CIFS File Sharing Support - this feature enables the sharing of files and printers with computers running older versions of Windows, ranging from Windows NT 4.0 up to Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 R2. The Server Message Block (SMB) protocol may be used by other operating systems like Linux or macOS to communicate with Windows devices. If that is the case in your network, it is safer not to disable it.
SMB Direct - Lets network adapters to use RDMA (Remote Direct Memory Access) to improve the file sharing process when using SMB 3.x file sharing protocol.
Telnet Client - a legacy command line client that uses the Telnet network protocol to provide bidirectional text-oriented communication with a Telnet server. Most users will never need to use it.
TFTP Client - a simple command line tool that can be used to transfer files via the Trivial File Transfer Protocol. Most users do not need to use it.
Virtual Machine Platform - Is part of the native virtualization system offered by Microsoft.
Windows Defender Application Guard - lets you isolate untrusted sites: as an administrator, you define what is among trusted web sites, cloud resources, and internal networks in your company, and everything not on your list is considered untrusted.
Windows Hypervisor Platform - an API (Application Programming Interface) that is used by other third-party virtualization software, such as VirtualBox or Android emulators.
Windows Identity Foundation 3.5 - a software framework for building identity-aware applications. The .NET Framework 4.5 that's included in Windows 10 includes a newer version of this framework. You should install the 3.5 version only if you are using older applications that do not work without it. Most users do not need to install it.
Windows Powershell 2.0 - a command-line tool that focuses on task automation and configuration management. If you want to gain a better understanding, we recommend that you read What is PowerShell and what can you do with it?.
Windows Process Activation Service - a service for message-based applications and components that are related to Internet Information Services (IIS). It allows software developers to choose the most appropriate protocol for their needs. This feature is useful only to software developers.
Windows Projected File System - also known as ProjFS, lets apps create virtual file systems. Unless you are working with code and developing stuff, you do not need this.
Windows Sandbox - allows you to run a free Windows 10 virtual machine within Windows 10, in which you can safely execute anything you wish: potentially malicious email attachments that you have received, apps that are in development or testing, and so on. Windows Sandbox is an excellent feature for anyone who needs a safe, isolated environment that does affect the PC on which it is running.
Windows Subsystem for Linux - lets you install and use the Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, openSUSE, Debian or Kali Linux, in Windows 10. You can read more about how to get to it working, here: How to get the Linux Bash in Windows 10, in 3 steps.
Windows TIFF IFilter - with this feature turned on, Windows can recognize text inside .TIFF image files. It is disabled by default, as optical character recognition has a big impact on performance.
Work Folders Client - allows users to sync a folder and its content, from the corporate network to their personal devices. Files created locally will sync back to the file server in the corporate environment.
Did we manage to help you understand the features available for Windows?
Phew… this was a lengthy guide! It took us a lot of time and work to make it. We hope that it is going to prove useful to you and that it has answered your questions related to the different Windows features that are available. If you are looking for other interesting tutorials, do not hesitate to take a look at our recommendations below.