Discover what Windows 10 Shared PC mode is all about

There are many new features to keep track of with Windows 10. In the latest version, Microsoft introduced shared PC mode to give multiple users desktop access.

Windows 10 Shared PC mode is useful for certain types of workers, so IT administrators should get to know this...

new feature.

With the release of version 1607, Windows 10 supports Shared PC mode, a configuration option that lets administrators set up their organization's desktops for multiple user access. IT may want to make shared PCs available to customers or temporary workers, for example.

Microsoft designed Shared PC mode to minimize administrative overhead and take advantage of available maintenance windows when the PC is not in use. The feature is available in Windows 10 Pro, Education and Enterprise.

To support this feature, Microsoft has also introduced the Shared PC configuration service provider (CSP), an interface that shows the necessary options to manage Windows 10 Shared PC mode. To manage the shared desktops, administrators can use a mobile device management (MDM) tool that supports the CSP, or they can use the Windows Imaging and Configuration Designer (WICD) to create provisioning packages that use the CSP.

Windows 10 Shared PC users

Not surprisingly, Microsoft points to Intune for managing Shared PC mode.

Shared PC mode allows only one user to log in to the desktop at a time. If the PC has been joined to an Active Directory (AD) or Azure AD domain, anyone within that domain can log in as a standard user. Organizations with Azure AD Premium accounts can also allow users to log in with administrative privileges.

By default, Windows caches domain-joined accounts until disk space runs low and then starts deleting the oldest accounts first. After AD users have logged off the desktops, Windows will automatically delete their accounts, based on how IT has configured Windows 10 Shared PC mode. Admins can configure the thresholds that specify when those deletions occur, or configure Shared PC mode to delete domain-joined accounts as soon as users log off.

Shared PC mode also lets IT set up desktops to permit anonymous guest access, which does not require user credentials or authentication. Windows creates a temporary local account when the guest user logs on, and then deletes the account immediately upon logoff.

Microsoft does not recommend configuring local administrator accounts on the shared desktops for security and reliability reasons, however. If maintaining a local administrator account is necessary, IT should create the account before implementing Windows 10 Shared PC mode. Windows automatically preserves any user accounts that existed prior to enabling this feature.

Shared PC configuration options galore

Microsoft provides a wide range of CSPs for managing various features on Windows 10 devices. Each CSP serves as an interface that facilitates reading and modifying device configurations, as the CSP settings map directly to registry keys or files on the target device.

The Shared PC CSP makes it possible for administrators to configure Windows 10 Shared PC mode through different types of tools. Like other CSPs, Shared PC conforms to the Open Mobile Alliance Device Management standard, which specifies protocols and other mechanisms for managing mobile devices. All Windows 10 devices, including desktops, now support MDM management capabilities, making it also possible for MDM tools to use the CSP to implement Shared PC mode on managed desktops.

The device settings available through the Shared PC CSP break down into three categories:

Enablement. The CSP provides only one setting, EnableSharedPCMode, which can enable or disable Windows 10 Shared PC mode. This option must be set to True for the other settings to apply.

Account management. This includes the settings necessary to configure account deletion and caching policies, enable automatic account management, and configure the type of accounts allowed to log in to a shared desktop. For example, IT can use the AccountModel setting to choose whether to support guest accounts only, domain-joined accounts only, or both types of accounts. Admins can use the EnableAccountManager setting to turn on automatic account management.

Customization. The settings in this category are specific to policies such as power management, maintenance start times, wake-up logins, timeouts and education environments. For example, the SleepTimeout setting specifies the number of seconds that the desktop can sit idle, and the MaintenanceStartTime setting provides the daily start time for the system's maintenance window.

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Managing Shared PC mode

Not surprisingly, Microsoft points to Intune for managing Shared PC mode, which allows IT to manage any Windows 10 desktops and mobile devices. Intune exposes the Shared PC settings through the OMA Uniform Resource Identifier customizations that are added to the Intune policy.

Another method is to create a WICD provisioning package. The WICD tool is included in the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit and lets IT perform a wide range of administrative tasks, such as adding third-party drivers, viewing configuration policies for Windows 10 images, creating provisioning answer files and building provisioning packages. A provisioning package is a file that contains the customizations for a Windows 10 image. Microsoft now includes the Shared PC CSP in WICD, making it possible to configure Windows 10 Shared PC mode as part of the configuration process.

When admins apply the Shared PC settings to a desktop, Windows configures a number of local group policies, including those related to power management, personalization, logon, user profiles, Windows components and several other categories. Some of these policies are configured directly through the Shared PC settings, while others are automatically configured by Microsoft to optimize Shared PC mode.

Windows 10 Shared PC mode is still a relatively new feature with a short track record. Documentation is limited, and the feature has yet to catch on with the user community. Start with a small test environment before committing too far down the shared PC path.

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