Not Worth the Trouble: Don’t Bother Downgrading Windows 8.1 to Windows 7

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Windows 8.1's Start screen with Windows 7's desktop background

When Microsoft released Windows 8, I purchased an upgrade for $15 and installed it on my existing PC. I wasn’t a fan. The tiles were forced upon me even though my existing PC had no touch screen. I couldn’t boot to the desktop. The desktop was presented as just another “app” — about as important as Angry Birds. All the new charms and corner gestures didn’t make sense with a mouse. Sure, it booted faster and had some desktop improvements, but it just wasn’t worth it to me. I downgraded back to Windows 7 and enjoyed using my computer again.

Today, many people are buying new Windows 8.1 computers and approaching them in a similar way. They want to avoid using Windows 8.1 at all costs. But installing Windows 7 on a Windows 8.1 PC isn’t worth the time or money you’ll spend on it.

Downgrading simply isn’t a great option for a home user. Large organizations with licensing agreements can downgrade for free, but if you’re an ordinary home user, you have no such luck. You’ll have to buy a copy of Windows 7 for about $100 to downgrade.

Now, take it from me: Even if you want to get back at Microsoft for making you use the tiles, you’re not sticking it to Microsoft by buying a Windows 8.1 computer and then buying a separate copy of Windows 7 to replace the OS it came with. You’re just giving them an additional $100! If you have an existing boxed copy of Windows 7, you can use that — but you can only have that copy of Windows 7 installed on one PC at a time.

You’ll also have to spend hours of your time installing Windows 7 and the appropriate hardware drivers for your PC. Your computer will boot slower, its touch screen won’t work as well (if it has a touch screen, of course), and you’ll have more trouble getting warranty support from your computer’s manufacturer.

Windows 8.1 tweaks for desktop usersThe recent updates to Windows 8 — like Windows 8.1 and the new Windows 8.1 Update — improve things significantly. With Windows 8.1 Update, Windows now boots to the desktop by default if you have non-touch hardware. You can disable the tiles-based Start screen and have a list of your installed desktop apps appear every time you click the Start button. You can press Windows Key + X or right-click the Start button to quickly access common actions like Shut Down and Control Panel.

And if you really want a Start menu, be patient — Microsoft is working on adding one to Windows 8.1 with a free update. Rumor has it that we’ll see an official Start menu restored this summer. If you want a Start menu right now, install one of the many third-party Start menus for Windows 8 — it’s faster than installing Windows 7.

Of course, I’m not going to tell you Windows 8.1 is the best thing since sliced bread. If you’re already using Windows 7, upgrading to Windows 8.1 isn’t worth the trouble either. There’s no sense paying $100 for Windows 8.1 and spending your time upgrading your existing PC. You may see some minor performance improvements, but you can get way more performance by spending $100 on a hardware upgrade or putting that $100 toward buying a new PC in the future.

Personally, I run Windows 7 on a laptop that came with Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 on a Surface Pro 2 that came with Windows 8. Both of these devices work fine. There’s no sense spending $100 and wasting time switching their operating systems — it’s just not worth the trouble.

You may be tempted to seek out a laptop that comes with Windows 7 instead, but beware: Many of these will be older models that don’t come with modern Intel Haswell processors and will have dramatically lower your battery life. Don’t end up paying the same amount — or more — for worse hardware just because it comes with Windows 7.

Image Credit: Chris Hoffman

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