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.
While despondent Windows 8 owners can install a fresh copy of Windows 7 on their PCs, this option is more likely to appeal to folks cobbling together a DIY computer from the power supply on up. Be sure to check out PCWorld’s guide to best PC building practices and our tips on avoiding common PC building mistakes if that sounds like you.
Downgrade Windows 8 Pro
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.
But if you’ve already bought a Windows 8 Pro-packing PC and want to drop to Windows 7, check out PCWorld’s comprehensive guide to the convoluted Windows downgrade process.
Be the change you want to see
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.
Simply installing Start menu replacement software will get you most of the way there, but if truly want to forget that Live Tiles even exist, be sure to read our guide on eradicating Metro from your Windows 8.1 PC.
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.