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

Earlier this week I posted detailed instructions on how to "downgrade" (I use the term advisedly) a Windows 8 Pro machine to Windows 7 Professional. Microsoft explicitly gives permission for this downgrade. The steps are lengthy, but not particularly difficult for an experienced Windows user who's accustomed to clean installs. There is, however, one sticking point: Where do you get a "genuine" copy of the Win7 Professional bits?

If you're working with a corporate PC that's under a volume license, Microsoft's Volume Licensing Service Center has the bits. The problem lies with Win8 Pro PCs that aren't covered with a VL.

It's relatively easy for many people to beg, borrow, or steal a Windows 7 Professional DVD or download an ISO image from one of many sources online. More reputable sites include Microsoft's own subscription-only TechNet and MSDN, or the Microsoft student edition fulfillment service at Digital River. But "easy" doesn't mean "legal."

Fifteen months ago, Microsoft MVP and forum moderator Andre Da Costa tackled the specific question of Digital River downloads on the Microsoft Answers forum. Here's what he said:

Since it is being download directly from Digital River servers, as long as you own a genuine license... then you are free to download it. The way I see it, the license takes precedence over the medium... The persons these Digital River downloads would be most suitable for... are persons with OEM preloads who might have lost their recovery partitions or media and can't bother with the process of obtaining recovery media. Same applies to retail discs, the process of ordering, shipping, nominal fee.

That strikes me as a very reasonable approach to the problem of downloading "genuine" Windows 7, although the folks at Digital Media may not appreciate having their bandwidth bumped.

Following up on an inquiry from a reader (thanks, SH!), I contacted Microsoft and specifically asked about how Windows 8 Pro customers -- who are allowed to downgrade, no question -- should go about acquiring a genuine copy of Windows 7 Professional. A Microsoft spokesperson sent me this response:

PCs with Windows 8 Pro will have the option to downgrade either to Windows 7 Professional or Windows Vista Business. People wishing to downgrade should contact the source where they originally purchased Windows 8 to get media to help with the downgrade process, whether it was pre-installed on their PCs, purchased separately at retail, or via volume licensing.

When asked to clarify the statement, Microsoft assured me that, for example, people who bought a Windows 8 Pro machine from Hewlett-Packard should ask HP for a free copy of Windows 7 Professional; if it was bought at Best Buy, the customer should contact Best Buy, and similarly for other hardware manufacturers. If the customer bought Windows 8 Pro directly from Microsoft (presumably that includes the online upgrades), they should contact Microsoft for a Windows 7 Professional DVD.

I'm not sure how you would fare, but I figure my chances of walking into Best Buy saying, "Hey, Microsoft tells me you'll give me a Win7 Professional DVD for free," and coming away with anything more than a belly laugh are pretty slim.

It's just silly. Microsoft explicitly grants downgrade rights in the Win8 Pro EULA, but it doesn't provide any way to acquire reliably "genuine" media. Most legal, paying Win8 Pro customers are forced to find a less-than-legal source for their bits.

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