I'm being bombarded with questions from people who received Windows 8 computers over the holidays. Their No. 1 question has nothing to do with managing the old-fashioned desktop or optimizing the Metro "Modern UI" Start screen for desktop use. The vast majority of people come to me with one plaintive request, often phrased in, uh, colorful language: How do I get Windows 7 working on this machine?
By far the easiest solution is to return the computer to the vendor, then use Galen Gruman's hints for hunting down and bagging a decent Windows 7 machine.
For many of you, though, that's not an option. It's hard to look Aunt Bertha in the eye and explain why you traded in her oh-so-au-courant (and expensive!) clever, colorful folding Christmas gift for a boring brushed-aluminum clamshell. I guess you can always tell Aunt B that Win8 gives you "gorilla arm" -- per the latest Scientific American -- even if the assertion doesn't make much sense. But I digress.
Windows 8 Pro systems qualify for "downgrading" (I hesitate to use the term) to Windows 7 Professional. Windows 8 systems don't qualify.
In general terms, here's how to move from Win8 Pro to Win7 Professional:
1. Back up everything, of course. Make sure you have installation media for any programs you want to migrate. Go to the PC manufacturer's website and download all of the drivers for that particular PC. While some companies claim they won't guarantee their Win8 systems will have Win7 drivers available -- HP is particularly notorious in this regard -- in practice, I haven't heard of any Win8 Pro PC manufacturer that fails to provide compatible Win7 drivers. (If you know otherwise, please leave a note in the Comments section.)
2. Here's the tricky part: You need to find a "genuine" copy of Windows 7 Professional. If your company has a volume license, that's easy; the VL distribution kit includes all of the bits necessary to do the downgrade. Otherwise, you need to find a retail version of Windows 7 Professional or an OEM copy. (Hint: If you know someone with a TechNet or MSDN subscription, they can get it for you.) If you're downgrading a bunch of machines, you need only one copy of Windows 7 Professional. After all, Microsoft is selling you a license -- embodied in the product activation key -- not the bits.
3. Turn off Secure Boot. Most new Windows 8 Pro machines have UEFI with Secure Boot enabled. Fortunately, on every Windows 8 machine I've seen, it's relatively easy (but sometimes tiring) to turn off Secure Boot. Some computers let you get at the UEFI/BIOS settings during boot (typically by pressing Del, Esc, or F2), but you may need to get into UEFI through Windows 8. Here's how most Win8 machines work: Bring up the Charms menu, tap or click Settings, PC Settings, General, and choose Restart Now. When the computer comes back up for air, it'll show you an advanced options menu. Tap or click Troubleshoot, Advanced Options, UEFI Firmware Settings, then Restart. The computer restarts again, and you can see your UEFI settings. Change the Secure Boot setting from Enabled to Disabled. Save changes, and reboot your machine back to Windows 8.