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Windows 10 Anniversary Update leaves Pro customers hanging

Windows 10 Pro admins get an unwelcome surprise when they install the Anniversary Update; they lose out on the ability to block third-party applications.

Windows 10 Pro administrators can no longer take advantage of certain commonly used Group Policy settings following the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.

In the Aug. 2 update, Microsoft removed Windows 10 Pro administrators' ability to disable Windows Store apps and block users from installing third-party applications. This change comes after many customers migrated to Windows 10 Pro for free through a promotion. Pro administrators will be able to filter third-party applications from Windows Store's suggestions, Microsoft said in a statement. But to completely block that software, Windows 10 Pro customers must upgrade to the paid Enterprise edition.

Over the last year, many organizations took advantage of Microsoft's free Windows 10 Pro upgrade promotion which ended July 29, and some of those early adopters are not thrilled to lose the Group Policy settings.

"It makes it difficult for a business like ours who wants to upgrade to the Anniversary edition, but is hesitant because those group polices can't set things the way we want to," said Steven Powers, IT manager at Millar Inc., a medical technology provider in Houston. "[Microsoft wants] to sell the Enterprise version."

Millar's IT department was part of the Windows 10 Insider Program and spent months testing the operating system's capabilities and application compatibility before migrating to Windows 10 Pro in October 2015. Now that some of those capabilities are missing in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Millar has yet to install it on a large scale.

"When they take out features you need to have ... it seems illogical," Powers said.

Windows 10 Pro changes affect security

The inability to block third-party applications could open the door to security threats, such as compromised apps and Trojan horses, said David Monahan, research director at Enterprise Management Associates Inc., an IT analyst firm in Boulder, Colo. 

"It absolutely could be a problem," he said.

The changes to Windows 10 Pro Group Policy are not an attempt to get customers to upgrade to the Enterprise version, a Microsoft spokesperson said. The company views Pro as an edition for SMBs, whereas Enterprise has features suited for larger businesses, the spokesperson said.

We have been suffering through group policies that don't work anymore.
Robby Hillfounder and CEO, HillSouth

"Administrators using Windows 10 Pro can apply a policy to filter Windows 10 tips, tricks and suggestions and Windows Store suggestions to only display Microsoft-related content and block third-party-related content," Microsoft said in an emailed statement. "With the Windows 10 Enterprise and Education editions, administrators are also able to disable the features completely."

Microsoft partners and customers have noticed the changes to Windows 10 Pro Group Policy, however.

"We have been suffering through group policies that don't work anymore," said Robby Hill, founder and CEO at HillSouth, a Microsoft partner in Florence, S.C. "People can install software IT doesn't want to have."

Because of the free upgrade promotion, Windows 10 Pro is very popular, especially among SMBs, Hill said.

"I'm hopeful this is just an oversight," he added. "This is something people didn't plan for and didn't want. We are anxiously awaiting better updates."

HillSouth and its customers ran into another problem with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update: Once customers installed it on Windows 10 Pro, the OS could not detect antivirus software from Kaspersky Labs, a security vendor HillSouth also partners with. This issue resulted in an increase in help desk calls from clients, and it could lead to other issues, such as the installation of a second conflicting antivirus agent, Hill said. 

Windows 10 Pro customers also lose out on access to Microsoft's Application Virtualization (App-V) and User Environment Virtualization (UE-V) in the Anniversary Update. Windows 10 Enterprise includes these tools, but existing App-V and UE-V customers on Windows 10 Pro have to upgrade to Enterprise to continue using them.

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