Microsoft to Windows 8 downgraders: The bits stop here

Microsoft says Windows 8 Pro machines can be downgraded legally to Win7 Professional, but its restrictions on getting 'genuine' Win7 bits are silly

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Microsoft SBS MVP Susan Bradley says there's a similar problem with downgrade rights on Windows Server 2012 Essentials:

Even in the server world we're told to go down a dubious path to get a downgrade to an OEM server. As noted on the SBS Blog, we're instructed to use media from the Technet eval site and use a product key for a different product in order to get downgrade rights in the OEM server channels. You only find the instructions to do this on a blog; it's not in any end user license agreement. The whole process makes me feel like I'm engaging in an illegal backroom transaction for something that is fully in my rights as a buyer of the product.

I looked all over the Internet and couldn't find many hardware manufacturers with straightforward instructions for ordering a Win7 Professional downgrade DVD. There's a lot of confusion and bad experiences (Dell and HP) as a general rule. By contrast, Lenovo has a complete write-up; Lenovo actively supports Think-branded notebooks and desktops for downgrades "on all but a few select new touch systems where the Windows 7 touch experience would not be as good."

Try a little experiment: Pretend you bought a boxed copy of Windows 8 Pro from the Microsoft Store and you want to downgrade. Can you find instructions for acquiring a free Win7 Professional downgrade DVD on the Internet?

Once you have the Windows 7 Professional installation media -- by hook or by crook -- you may have difficulty following Microsoft's downgrade installation instructions, particularly if your new Win8 Pro machine shipped with a BIOS-enabled activation key. Microsoft's instructions say, "The product key associated with the original Windows [8] software should be used for activation." If your new computer doesn't have a "birth certificate" COA sticker on the outside of the case, with a Windows activation code on it, the key has been burned into your computer's BIOS and nothing short of a Vulcan BIOS mind meld or trip through Belarc Advisor will divulge the Win8 key.

Fortunately, that isn't a show stopper. Go ahead and perform a clean install of Win7 Pro and bypass the screen that asks for an activation key. You'll then have 30 days to call the Windows activation center and plead your case for a valid downgrade key -- a process that should be quite straightforward.

But you might want to practice that conversation before calling the activation center. Try to avoid an exchange that goes something like this:

Win8 Customer: "I just downgraded Win8 Pro to Win7 Professional. I need an activation code."

Microsoft: "Where did you get the Win7 bits?"

Customer: "My mother-in-law. She subscribes to MSDN."

Microsoft: "I'm sorry, you don't qualify."

If Windows 8 were outrageously popular, this would be a tiny problem destined to go away quickly. Unfortunately, it isn't.

This story, "Microsoft to Windows 8 downgraders: The bits stop here," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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