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How to downgrade from Windows 8 (Hint: The first step is to know your rights)

Paul Rubens | March 15, 2013
For a variety of reasons, some businesses are looking to downgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 7. The good news is that Microsoft's business licenses come with downgrade rights, but the catch is that the rules can be tricky and compliance could become an issue. Here are some clarifications on your rights when downgrading from Windows 8 or standardizing on noncurrent Microsoft software.

That's because you only have Windows Server 2008 CALs, not Server 2012 CALs. Deploying an instance of Windows Server 2012 as a DNS server -- a core network service accessible to all clients -- would be likely to trigger an organization-wide requirement for Windows Server 2012 CALs, Horowitz adds.

So if your business has recently bought some Windows 8 machines you want to downgrade them to Windows 7, what does all this mean for you and how do you go about it?

We'll assume that the machines came with Windows 8 OEM licenses, and that they have the Pro version, which includes downgrade rights to Windows 7 Professional or Windows Vista Business, so in compliance terms you're good to go.

How to Downgrade a Windows 8 Machine to Windows 7

1. Obtain media. The first thing you'll need to do is obtain installation media for Windows 7 Professional, and its corresponding product key. You can use a disk and product key that has already been used in your organization or elsewhere.

2. Check driver availability. Before downgrading, be sure to check that Windows 7 drivers are available for the hardware.

3. Create a recovery drive. If you haven't already done so, create a recovery drive using the Windows 8 Recovery Media Creator utility (accessible through Windows 8's Settings) so that you can easily restore the machine to Windows 8 in the future.

4. Configure the BIOS. If you are planning to install Windows 7 Pro X86 version (not X64 version), and if your hardware includes the new Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) instead of standard BIOS, then this will have to be configured to the "Legacy" boot option. (That's because while the X64 version supports UEFI, the X86 version does not.)

5. Install the OS. Install Window 7 Professional using the installation media, and enter the product key when asked to do so. You can use the same disk and key for multiple installations.

6. Activate Windows 7 by phone Automatic product activation will fail because the Windows 7 product key has already been used, so at this point you will have to call Microsoft on the number displayed in the activation window, explain that you are downgrading to Windows 7, and provide a valid Windows 8 Pro key. You will then be provided with an activation code to activate Windows 7.

Two-day Microsoft Licensing Boot Camps (run by Microsoft) cover the issue of downgrade rights in more detail.


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