Microsoft nightmare begins: ‘Downgrading from Windows 8’ options suggested, detailed

It’s been just over a month since Windows 8 was introduced, and all you really need to know about how well it’s doing is this: articles are starting to appear providing advice on how users can downgrade from Windows 8 to the previous version, 7.

Common sense will tell you that if something is considered a success, people are not going to want to stop using it.

Much has been written about all the things that are thought to be unpopular about the new OS, so there’s no need to review them all here. Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox weblog entry describes the problems in great detail:

“The Roman god Janus; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; even Batman’s arch-foe Two-Face — human culture is fascinated by duality. We can now add Windows 8 to this list. The product shows two faces to the user: a tablet-oriented Start screen and a PC-oriented desktop screen.

Unfortunately, having two environments on a single device is a prescription for usability problems for several reasons:

  • Users have to learn and remember where to go for which features.
  • When running web browsers in both device areas, users will only see (and be reminded of) a subset of their open web pages at any given time.
  • Switching between environments increases the interaction cost of using multiple features.
  • The two environments work differently, making for an inconsistent user experience.”

(FYI: The format of the above paragraphs became unusable when attempting to apply a quote box. It worked better on the below excerpt.)

One of the worst aspects of Windows 8 for power users is that the product’s very name has become a misnomer. “Windows” no longer supports multiple windows on the screen. Win8 does have an option to temporarily show a second area in a small part of the screen, but none of our test users were able to make this work. Also, the main UI restricts users to a single window, so the product ought to be renamed “Microsoft Window.”

The single-window strategy works well on tablets and is required on a small phone screen. But with a big monitor and dozens of applications and websites running simultaneously, a high-end PC user definitely benefits from the ability to see multiple windows at the same time. Indeed, the most important web use cases involve collecting, comparing, and choosing among several web pages, and such tasks are much easier with several windows when you have the screen space to see many things at once.

When users can’t view several windows simultaneously, they must keep information from one window in short-term memory while they activate another window. This is problematic for two reasons. First, human short-term memory is notoriously weak, and second, the very task of having to manipulate a window—instead of simply glancing at one that’s already open—further taxes the user’s cognitive resources.

One of the worst aspects of Windows 8 for power users is that the product’s very name has become a misnomer. “Windows” no longer supports multiple windows on the screen. Win8 does have an option to temporarily show a second area in a small part of the screen, but none of our test users were able to make this work. Also, the main UI restricts users to a single window, so the product ought to be renamed “Microsoft Window.”

The single-window strategy works well on tablets and is required on a small phone screen. But with a big monitor and dozens of applications and websites running simultaneously, a high-end PC user definitely benefits from the ability to see multiple windows at the same time. Indeed, the most important web use cases involve collecting, comparing, and choosing among several web pages, and such tasks are much easier with several windows when you have the screen space to see many things at once.

When users can’t view several windows simultaneously, they must keep information from one window in short-term memory while they activate another window. This is problematic for two reasons. First, human short-term memory is notoriously weak, and second, the very task of having to manipulate a window—instead of simply glancing at one that’s already open—further taxes the user’s cognitive resources.

So, given that there are problems…if you don’t like it, what are your downgrade options?

It’s not an easy task–but this story, from PC World‘s Ian Paul, provides you with some choices:

What can Windows 8 Pro downgrade to?

If you bought a PC with Windows 8 Pro preinstalled you can downgrade to either Windows 7 Professional or Windows Vista Business.

Also, in case you’re wondering about the differences between Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, know that the Pro version offers several power user and enterprise-centric features such as BitLocker disk encryption and the ability to boot from a virtual hard drive (VHD). PCWorld detailed the features in each Windows 8 edition in April.

What do I need to downgrade?

To take advantage of your Windows 8 Pro downgrade rights, you need installation media (such as DVD or USB key) for Windows 7 Professional or Windows Vista Business. You also need a valid product key for the older OS. Microsoft says it’s fine to use a product key currently in use on another machine; you just need the old code to get past the product key request during installation.

Where can I get the installation media?

The tricky part is obtaining installation media for Windows 7 Professional and Vista Business because you are pretty much on your own for sourcing installation discs. You can try calling the manufacturer of your Windows 8 Pro PC to see if they will give you the Windows 7/Vista installation media you need, but don’t get your hopes up. Posing as a regular customer looking to buy a Windows 8 Pro machine, PCWorld called the home and home office sales lines for Dell and HP. Both companies said they do not supply downgrade discs for free or at a nominal cost. Dell, however, will sell you a downloadable version of Windows 7 for about $290. You also won’t get downgrade discs directly from Microsoft, and if you don’t have the disc, you can’t downgrade.

Again, downgrade rights are largely designed for businesses that may have Windows 7 installation discs on hand or have volume licensing agreements that provide access to older versions of Windows.

I have the right installation disc and a product key, now what?

If you have installation discs for Windows 7 Professional or Vista Business, you are almost ready to downgrade. As with any Windows installation, make sure any personal files already on your PC are backed up on a portable hard drive or an online backup solution. You should also make sure that you have Windows 8 installation media for when you want to move back to Windows 8. New PC owners should pay attention during first-time startup of a Windows 8 PC for a prompt to create system recovery discs. Otherwise, you can use Microsoft’s built-in tools in Windows 8 to create a system image or recovery media .

TIP: PCWorld’s sister publication Computerworld points out that you may have to disable the new Windows 8 secure boot feature in your Windows 8 machine’s BIOS settings. To do this go to the Charms Bar in Windows 8 and select Settings > Change PC Settings > General > Advanced Start Up. On the next screen select Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > UEFI Firmware Settings (this option is available only on new Windows 8 machines).

Once you’re set to downgrade, just pop in your Windows 7/Vista installation disc or USB drive and install the system as you normally would. When prompted for a product key, use the Windows 7/Vista key that came with the older OS’ installation discs and not the newer Windows 8 key; however, you will need your Windows 8 key after Windows 7 is installed.

There’s much more to this process…again, here’s the link to the story, so you can continue the steps for the downgrade there.

Windows XP has already showed it has a vampire-like “undead” existence…but while Microsoft has already set in stone that XP support will end on April 8, 2014, that doesn’t mean that the far superior Windows 7 isn’t a good choice.

The Windows 8 experience so far has shown that it’s not for everyone. If you’re one of the reportedly growing majority of dissatisfied users, you now have options on how to move on without it.

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2 thoughts on “Microsoft nightmare begins: ‘Downgrading from Windows 8’ options suggested, detailed

  1. Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up.
    The words in your post seem to be running off the screen in Internet explorer.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I thought I’d
    post to let you know. The design and style look great though!
    Hope you get the problem fixed soon. Many thanks

    • That’s good to know, I’ll have to take a look. I use one of WordPress.com’s standard themes, so there’s little I could do about it anyway.

      I don’t use Internet Explorer, so thanks for the heads-up.

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