The Professional edition of Windows 8 comes with “downgrade rights.” If you’re not happy with Windows 8 on a new computer, you can downgrade it to Windows 7 for free – as long as you have Windows 8 Pro.
This isn’t as easy as it should be: Microsoft designed this procedure for businesses, and individual users will have to jump through a number of hoops to downgrade their Windows 8 Pro systems.
Downgrade Rights vs. Other Ways to Downgrade
This article is about exercising downgrade rights on a computer that comes with Windows 8 Pro. Downgrading to Windows 7 is simpler in other situations:
- If your computer came with Windows 7 and you upgraded it to Windows 8, you can revert your computer to the Windows 7 system it came with.
- If you have a retail copy of Windows 7 you aren’t using, you can install it on a new computer that came with Windows 8. (Ensure the new computer has hardware drivers that work with Windows 7.)
How Downgrade Rights Work
Downgrade rights are intended for businesses. When buying new computers, businesses purchase computers that come preloaded with Windows 8 licenses and install a previous version of Windows without buying separate licenses.
Downgrade rights can be a bit confusing. Here’s how they work:
- Downgrade rights are only available on computers that come with Windows 8 Pro. Upgrade copies of Windows 8 Pro don’t include downgrade rights, so you can’t purchase the Windows 8 Pro Pack to get downgrade rights.
- You can only downgrade to Windows 7 Professional or Windows Vista Business, not Windows XP. (For the purpose of this article, we’ll assume you probably want to downgrade to Windows 7.)
- After downgrading, you can reinstall Windows 8 at any time.
Before Downgrading Windows
If you have a new computer that came with Windows 8 Professional and are itching to get Windows 7 Pro on it, there are a few things you should do first:
- Ensure the computer actually supports Windows 7. Manufacturers may only provide hardware drivers for Windows 8, preventing you from using your hardware to its full capabilities. Check the manufacturer’s website for Windows 7 drivers for your computer.
- Create a recovery drive that contains a copy of your new PC’s recovery partition. This will allow you to restore the original Windows 8 system if you wipe the recovery partition.
How to Downgrade Windows 8
If you’re using a new computer that came with Windows 8, you’ll probably have to enter your computer’s UEFI settings screen and enable the Legacy boot option, not the UEFI boot option. Consult your computer’s manual for more information.
To downgrade Windows, you’ll need a Windows 7 Professional installation disc and a valid license key for it. Neither Microsoft nor your computer manufacturer will provide this disc or key for you – you’re on your own when finding it, although Microsoft insists you should find a legitimate copy instead of downloading one from an illicit website. Downgrade rights are intended for businesses, who will likely have a disc and key on hand.
Once you’ve found the disc, insert it into your new computer and restart into the Windows 7 installer. Install Windows 7 Professional as you normally would, providing the legitimate Windows 7 Pro key during the installation process. Note that you can use this same key to downgrade multiple Windows 8 computers – you’ll just need this key to get past the mandatory key check during the installation process.
After Windows 7 finishes installing, the online activation will fail because your product key is already in use. If you don’t see an “activation failed” message, you can press Start, type Activate, and click Activate Windows. You’ll need to activate by phone. Call up the phone number displayed in the activation window and explain that you’re exercising your Windows 8 Pro downgrade rights. Have your Windows 8 Pro key ready; you’ll need it to prove your PC has downgrade rights.
After explaining this, you’ll be given a long, single-use activation code. Enter that activation code into the window and your Windows 7 Professional installation will be activated.
To downgrade multiple computers, you can use the same installation disc and Windows 7 product key. However, you’ll need to call up Microsoft each time to receive an activation key.
From requiring a preinstalled copy of Windows 8 Pro to leaving you on your own when finding Windows 7 installation media, this process is filled with traps for individual users. It’s clear that Microsoft only wants businesses downgrading – but if you have a retail license of Windows 7 you aren’t using, you’re free to install it on your new computer.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 01/7/13