Downgrading is a pretty simple process. It’s not easy, but it is simple.
I am going to start by trying to talk you out of doing it at all. In my mind, there is rarely a reason to downgrade from Windows 10 or 8.1 to Windows 7. But knowing that sometimes there are reasons, I will tell you how.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Windows 7 is fine – but then so is 10
Now, I want to be clear about one thing: Windows 7 is a fine operating system. Folks who are running Windows 7 and are happy with it may not have a reason to upgrade. It’s good; it’s solid; it works. As long as it’s supported (extended support ends in January of 2020), it’s not unreasonable to keep it.
Windows 10 is also a fine operating system. Folks that are running Windows 10, in my opinion, have little reason to downgrade. For the most part, it’s good, it’s solid, and it works.
There are two problems with Windows 10 (and to a lesser degree, Windows 8 before it).
First, when coming from Windows 7 or earlier editions, people tend to get all wrapped around the axle with the new start screen and Start menu. It’s a bad first impression that colors their entire subsequent experience with the operating system. This is really unfortunate, because it’s so easily fixed. Once you fix it, most of the time you actually have a hard time realizing you aren’t running Windows 7.
The fix is easy. Install Classic Shell or any of the other Start menu replacements; there’s a bunch of them. Particularly useful for Windows 8 and 8.1, it makes the Windows desktop look and act pretty much like Windows 7 (or Vista, or XP), and it’s a heckuva lot easier than the downgrading process, as you’ll soon see. So, if it’s the start screen or Start menu that concerns you, I recommend you give Classic Shell a try before you insist on downgrading.
Second, some folks are running into compatibility issues: printers that no longer print, accessories that no longer work, or applications that fail in Windows 10. Other than upgrading the failing hardware or software, there’s little recourse here, and reverting to the previous working edition of Windows is the only viable choice.
Shoulda, coulda, woulda
I often hear that “Microsoft should have done this” or “they shouldn’t have done that.”
Whatever they should or shouldn’t have done with Windows, this is what they did. Complaining just isn’t going to help.
There are signs Microsoft does periodically rethink some of their decisions, and continued updates in Windows 10 seem to bear that out to some degree. But regardless of what they did, why they did it, or what they’re going to do in the future, this is what you have today: a machine with Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 on it.
The right way to “downgrade”
The easiest way to perform a downgrade is actually extremely simple:
- Back up your computer completely. I recommend a complete image backup to make sure you don’t miss anything.
- Restore your computer to the backup image you took immediately prior to upgrading to Windows 8.1 or Windows 10.
- Restore any updates to your data from the backup image you took in the first step.
That’s it. It’s a bit of work, but you have your old Windows back.
The problem, of course, is that many people simply don’t have that “image you took immediately prior to upgrading”. They have nothing to restore to. These folks need the more traditional downgrade path.
The steps to downgrade
I promised you the steps, and here they are.
Step 1: Back up your machine completely. I recommend a complete image backup to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Step 2: Install Windows 7 from scratch. That means basically reformat and reinstall, so you’ll end up with a machine that has a brand new installation of Windows 7.
Step 3: Install all of your applications from scratch. That means you’ll need your installation disks (or downloads) for all of the applications you care about, because you will, in fact, be setting them up one at a time.
Step 4: Restore your data from the backup, or wherever else you have it.
Pretty simple; just not easy.
There is no true downgrade
The truth is, there is no such thing as a downgrade. There is no easy way to turn Windows 10 into Windows 8, or Windows 8 into Windows 7, especially if you’ve been using the newer OS for any length of time. What you do instead is replace the newer version of Windows with Windows 7 by performing a completely clean install of Windows 7.
This is nothing new. Operating system upgrades are rarely reversible. With the exception of the limited-time ability to revert from Windows 10 that was offered during the free upgrade period, you’ve never really been able to downgrade. Even when the facility is available, it’s not something I would recommend you count on.
As long as you’re not facing true compatibility issues, my belief is that making Windows 8 or 10 behave a little bit more like Windows 7 (by using Classic Shell or similar tools) is a much more viable alternative to reformatting your machine and starting over from scratch.
If you found this article helpful, I'm sure you'll also love Confident Computing! My weekly email newsletter is full of articles that help you solve problems, stay safe, and give you more confidence with technology. Subscribe now and I'll see you there soon,