If any word most accurately describes Windows 8, it’s “divisive.” Microsoft’s finger-first, device-agnostic reimagining of Windows draws haters like flies and has played some part—how large a part is up in the air—in driving PC sales off a cliff since its launch. Even so, Microsoft isn’t backing down, and Windows 8 and its Live Tiles are darn near ubiquitous in stores.
Don’t think you’re a hostage to Microsoft’s hubris, however.
While Windows 8 indeed lurks inside the vast majority of consumer PCs sold today, Windows 7 is by no means dead and gone. In fact, PC purists pining for the halcyon days of Windows 7 have a wealth of ways to acquire a PC powered by their operating system of choice. It just takes a little digging.
Buy a prebuilt PC
Simply waltzing into a Best Buy and asking for a Windows 7 PC won’t get you far. “We don’t carry Windows 7 anymore. It was phased out last year,” a blue-shirted salesperson told PCWorld at a Dedham, Massachusetts, store—and that was 13 months ago. A recent check at a Walmart in New Hampshire was similarly fruitless.
If you want a new Windows 7 PC, you’ll have to turn to the Internet.
Best Buy‘s website offers around 100 new Windows 7 desktops and all-in-ones. Newegg and Amazon each have hundreds. Individual PC builders also sell Windows 7 PCs. The phasing-out of consumer Windows 7 PCs means they’re already often priced somewhat higher than comparable Windows 8 machines, though.
Act fast if you want a consumer computer packing Windows 7. The end-of-sales date for computers with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate is October 31, 2014; beyond then, you’ll only be able to purchase business-focused laptops and desktops powered by Windows 7 Professional, and those can cost numerous pretty pennies.
In fact, many Windows 7 PCs available today already stick to the Professional version, which is helping to drive Windows 7 PC prices higher: Virtually all Windows 7 computers sold directly by Dell, Lenovo, HP, and other mainstream PC makers reside in the business category. Boutique PC builders, such as Origin and Falcon Northwest, also offer Windows 7 as an option for their built-to-order rigs. But those custom, drool-worthy computers start out expensive and only go up—way, way, way up—from there.
If you’re shopping for a prebuilt PC, consider searching for one that has Windows 7 Professional installed using the downgrade rights from a Windows 8 Pro license. (Just search for “Windows 7 downgrade” on your e-tailer of choice.) That way, if you ever decide to upgrade to Windows 8 or 8.1, you won’t have to pay for a new Windows license—but we’ll talk more about downgrade rights in a bit.
Roll your own PC
First, the bad news: The deadline has passed for buying standalone, boxed OEM copies of Windows 7. Everyday folks simply can’t get them from Microsoft anymore.
Now, the good news: E-tailers apparently stockpiled Windows 7 licenses by the bucketful before Microsoft cut off access. Finding boxed copies of Windows 7 online is dead simple. Even better, Windows 7 Home Premium still sells for its recommended $100 MSRP. Unlike hardware pre-stuffed with Windows 7, there’s been no price inflation on the software front.
Considering that you can still find boxed copies of Windows XP online, expect to see Windows 7 on sale for awhile, though its cost is sure to creep up as availability dwindles over time. Just be sure to confirm what you’re buying. Some third-party sellers offer “open box” copies of Microsoft’s operating system. Steer clear of those.
If you’ve already purchased or built a Windows 8 Pro computer and found you loathe Live Tiles, all is not lost. Microsoft’s rarely invoked downgrade rights can be tapped to transmogrify your PC into a Windows 7 Professional system.
Downgrade rights are a tricky beast, however.
You’ll need to have Windows 8 Pro installed, and your PC must have run on Windows 8 Pro from the get-go—basic Windows 8 installations upgraded to Windows 8 Pro after the fact don’t get downgrade rights. You’ll also need a product key and an installation disc for Windows 7, which Microsoft and most PC makers will not help with. (Good thing you can still buy boxed copies of Windows 7 on sale!) Oh yeah, the process requires jumping through some complicated hoops. And did I mention that some PC builders refuse to support boxed consumer computers that have been downgraded to Windows 7?
Yes, there’s a reason downgrade rights are typically used by big businesses alone. (Though businesses tend to use Windows 7 rather than Windows 8, but I digress.)
Nevertheless, downgrading has its upsides over simply nuking Windows 8 and installing a fresh copy of Windows 7. Namely, you can upgrade back to Windows 8 at no cost if you change your mind in the future. Like I said earlier: If you’re on the market for a new PC, buying a computer that already has Windows 7 Professional pre-installed using Windows 8 Pro’s downgrade rights essentially lets you have your cake and eat it too. Those systems are out there.
Finally, if you don’t want to drop extra dough on a Windows 7 license or spend a premium on a PC pre-packed with Windows 7, fear not. Bending Windows 8 to your will and forcing it to behave like its predecessor should take less than an hour, and doing so means you’ll get to keep Windows 8’s blazing-fast boot times and other under-the-hood improvements.
Procrastinators and lazy people, there’s something for you, too: The coming update to Windows 8.1 is supposed to include some new features to make the operating system easier on mouse-and-keyboard diehards. So even if you wait around and do nothing, Windows 8 should be just a little bit more like good ol’ Windows 7 pretty soon.
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