A couple of days ago, one of our readers asked us to explain what are all those Windows features that can be added or removed from your Windows installation. Even though all of them have some description, the information offered by Windows is either too little or too hard to understand. That's why we decided to publish this article and walk you through every Windows feature that's available in Windows 8.1 Pro. We will describe each Windows feature in a lot more detail than Windows does, so that you can decide for yourself whether to keep it or remove it.
Where To Find All the Windows Features That Can Be Added or Removed
In this guide we will 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 have used a Windows 8.1 Pro installation. Other editions of Windows will have a slightly different number of features available.
Explaining All Windows Features, One by One
Once you've opened the Windows Features window, you should see a long list of features that can be added or removed. Let's walk through each of these features and see what each of them does:
- .NET Framework 3.5 (includes .NET 2.0 and 3.0) – is a software development framework created by Microsoft. It is commonly used by many desktop programs and games. Windows 8.1 includes by default .NET Framework 4.5 and this version is not backwards compatible with version 3.5 or older versions. Therefore, older programs will need this version installed in order to run. Our recommendation is to keep it installed.
- .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 developers and business environments with complicated infrastructures and services. Casual users won't need to install all 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. This feature's purpose is to provide only the directory services. A scenario 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, this feature is not needed for casual Windows users. It is useful only to developers and for businesses that use applications which require this feature.
- Hyper-V - is 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 for 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 should consider installing this feature. Otherwise you don't need it.
- Internet Explorer 11 - Microsoft's default Internet browser. You should keep it only if you are interested in using it. Before removing it, please make sure that you have another 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 enables 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 Apps view and you can use any browser to access the sites you host. 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 less 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 should not install it.
- Legacy Components (DirectPlay) - 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 prior to 2008 and require this library, you should be OK with removing it.
- Media Features (Windows Media Player) - Windows Media Player is the default media player that's bundled in Windows. If you don't use it to play music or videos, you can remove it. Third-party media players are generally a better option.
- 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.
- Network Projection - is a feature that allows Windows users to remotely use projectors that are connected to the network. With this feature you can use any network projector to deliver a presentation. It also means that you do not need additional software in order to use a wide range of network projectors. That is, of course, if you or your company use Windows 8 or 8.1 as well as projectors that can connect themselves to the network.
- Print and Document Services - several 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 don't use such devices, you can disable this service. The Internet Printing Client enables you to connect and print to a printer that's 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.
- RAS Connection Manager Administration Kit (CMAK) - this feature enables you to create custom connections to remote servers and networks, protected by VPN. After enabling this feature, you will find the shortcut for its wizard at this location: “Control Panel -> System and Security -> Administrative Tools -> Connection Manager Administration Kit".
Obviously, this feature is used very rarely, in business networks, mostly by IT professionals.
- 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.
- RIP Listener - this service will listen for RIP announcements sent by routers and modify the routing table based on the information gathered. However, the routers your computer communicates with must support the RIPv1 protocol. This feature is used in corporate environments and it is not required by casual users.
- Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) - this is 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 OS X to communicate with Windows devices. If that's the case in your network, it is safer not to disable it.
- Telnet Client - a legacy command line client that uses the Telnet network protocol to provide a bidirectional text-oriented communications with a Telnet server. Most users will never need to use it.
- Telnet Server - this feature creates a Telnet server that's using the Telnet protocol to accept incoming connections. This is a legacy type of server that should not be used.
- TFTP Client - a simple command line tool that can be used to transfer files via the Trivial File Transfer Protocol. Most users will never need to use it.
- Windows Identity Foundation 3.5 - this is a software framework for building identity-aware applications. The .NET Framework 4.5 that's included in Windows 8.1 includes a newer version of this framework. You should install the 3.5 version only if you are using older applications that don't work without it. Most users will never need to install it.
- Windows Location Provider - this feature can use GPS sensors, IP address resolution, Wi-Fi triangulation or cell phone tower triangulation methods to establish your geographical location. This data can be used by desktop programs, apps and websites. If you feel the need for a higher level of privacy, you can choose to disable this feature. However, location-based apps and programs will no longer work as you expect them to.
- Windows Powershell 2.0 - a command-line tool that focuses on task automation and configuration management. If you want to gain a better understanding about it, we recommend you to read this tutorial: Simple Questions: What is PowerShell & What Can You Do With It?.
- Windows Process Activation Service - a service for message-based applications and components that's 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 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. You can find detailed information on this feature and how it works, in this tutorial: How to Set Up and Use Work Folders in Windows 8.1.
- XPS Services - these services provide support for Microsoft's ".XPS" file format which aims to be an alternative to Adobe's ".PDF" format. This service provides functionality such as printing and saving of XPS files. If you don't use such files, you will never need this feature.
- XPS Viewer - a small application that allows you to view and use ".XPS" files. You can learn more about it from here: How to Handle XPS Files with the XPS Viewer in Windows 7 or Windows 8. If you don't use this type of files, you will never need this viewer.
Phew… this was a lengthy guide! It took us a lot of time and work to make it. We hope that it will 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, don't hesitate to take a look at our recommendations below.