With the release of Windows 8 this year, Microsoft took a bold step toward a completely revolutionized user experience. To date, it is the most unique way to use a desktop computer, and it originates from the operating system’s goal of uniting tablets and desktops, and maybe even Microsoft’s new smartphones, under the same user interface. The company’s customers, however, have met this with less than ideal enthusiasm and many people are now actively seeking ways to downgrade their Windows 8 machine to Windows 7 or even Windows Vista.
This process is one that is fraught with potential pitfalls and certain conditions, but it is certainly not impossible in many cases. With the right Windows 8 installation and the right computer hardware, a downgrade is actually just as simple as an upgrade. Here’s how it’s done.
Step 1: Check the Installed Version of Windows 8
Windows 8 comes in a number of different “flavors,” but only one of them can be easily downgraded. Those customers who have purchased a computer with Windows 8 Pro, or those who have upgraded their existing computers to Windows 8 Pro, are the ones who will be best equipped to handle a downgrade. In fact, this is the only Windows 8 version that allows for an official downgrade to a prior version of the software.
Step 2: Make Sure the Process Isn’t Inhibited by BIOS
Windows 8 features a “Secure Boot” technology that is now installed along with the computer’s BIOS, located on the motherboard. This technology must be disabled before the operating system is replaced with an older variant. Generally, this is only required of machines sold after the release of the operating system. To disable this technology, gain access to the BIOS control panel and navigate to the following area:
Settings -> Change PC Settings -> General -> Advanced Start Up
On this page, click “Troubleshoot” and then “Advanced Options.” Choose the “UEFI Firmware Settings” option and then disable the secure booting option that comes with Windows 8 machines.
Step 3: Locate the Installation Media and Product Key for Windows 7
Windows 7, like every version of the operating system, comes with a product key that is used to initialize the installation and active the software with Microsoft. Before proceeding with the downgrade, it is important to locate this key. It’s also important, of course, to make sure that the Windows 7 DVD or USB drive is available. Without it, no downgrading is going to happen.
Step 4: Install and Active Microsoft Windows 7
Windows 7 will install just like usual, with no further accommodations required on behalf of the end user, at least until activation. After the software has finished installing, and the traditional Windows desktop appears, activation will be attempted. Because the OS has already been installed on a different machine, or previously installed on the same machine, activation will usually fail.
This failure will require the end user to call Microsoft and activate the operating system via phone. Essentially, the technician on the other end of the line will have to manually deactivate prior installations in order to allow for the activation of the current one. With this hurdle surpassed, the operating system will be ready to use.
A Possible Option: Reformat to Rid the Machine of Windows 8
Downgrading from any other Windows 8 variant will be unsuccessful and actually prohibited by the operating system unless a full reformat of the hard drive is completed. This process is a bit more complicated, and will require access to command line tools. End users looking to downgrade Windows 8 to a prior version via a reformat should check Windows user guides to learn more about the command line needed to initiate this process. As always, the “safe boot” feature should be disabled and the installation media should be available.
Consider Hardware Incompatibilities with Windows 7
For those customers who have purchased a Windows 8 PC after the release of the operating system, it’s important to note that some hardware may not have a compatible driver for Windows 7 environments. This will result in a few technical hurdles when seeking to make the OS operate as smoothly and effortlessly as Windows 8 normally would.
With hardware considerations understood, and other technical details mastered, downgrading to Windows 7 from Windows 8 should be a pain-free process that results in enhanced familiarity and usability. Be sure to proceed with caution, and always make a backup of critical data. With these things considered, a downgrade can be rewarding for all types of end users.
(By Lily McCann)