Essential Guide

How to migrate off XP and make a Microsoft Windows 8 upgrade

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A downgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 7 doesn't have to be complicated

One step forward, two steps back: If you plan to revert Windows 8 to Windows 7, you'll need to consider licensing, software compatibility and more.

Although Microsoft's latest operating system is gradually gaining acceptance, thanks largely to the Windows 8.1 update, there is no denying the fact that it isn't for everyone. For those who want to wash their hands of Windows 8 and revert to Windows 7, it can be done, but the process involves quite a bit of planning. Here are some things to consider before you downgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 7.

Licensing and supportability

The first step in making the transition back to Windows 7 is to determine your organization's license requirements and whether such a move is supported. If you purchased physical PCs with Windows 8 (or 8.1) Professional Edition, then Microsoft gives you the rights to downgrade to Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Ultimate. If you have a qualifying version of Windows 8, then you should be able to contact the PC OEM to obtain Windows 7 and the required product key.

If you have the basic edition of Windows 8, or if you purchased the Windows 8 license separately from your hardware, then you do not have any downgrade rights. You will have to purchase the required Windows 7 licenses outright. When you do, make sure that the installation media is included. Otherwise, you might receive a Windows 7 product key and nothing else.

Perform a hardware and software inventory

One of the most important steps in the downgrade process is to perform a comprehensive hardware and software inventory on the PCs that you are downgrading.

More about Windows 7 and Windows 8

Windows 8 tools address application compatibility

Windows XP tools address licensing, belated migrations

Project XP is Microsoft's internal plan to get businesses to migrate

Native utilities in Windows 8 based on Windows 7 tools

Windows XP Mode is back in Windows 8

Windows XP shops hold off on moving to Windows 7, Windows 8

A guide to Windows 7 migrations

When performing a software inventory, there are three main things to look out for. First, check each application for Windows 7 compatibility. Don't forget utility software such as antivirus agents.

Once you verify application compatibility, the next thing to check is whether you have a way of installing the software. You can't insert a Windows 7 DVD into a Windows 8 machine and perform an automatic downgrade. Windows 7 requires a clean install. This also means that applications will have to be reinstalled. As such, you will need some sort of application media, whether it's a DVD, a network distribution point, or something else.

Finally, check your application licenses. Some applications may require a new license key if they have previously been activated on a Windows 8 PC. This could end up costing a lot of money. It's a good idea to determine the licensing requirements ahead of time. If any of the applications do require new licenses, you may be able to talk to the application publisher about your downgrade so as to avoid paying for new licenses.

As for the hardware inventory, you should go through the Device Manager and make a list of the hardware that is being used. You can then locate and download Windows 7 drivers for the hardware. If you are running Windows 8 on virtual PCs, you won't have to worry about this step.

Make a backup before you move from Windows 8 to Windows 7

Just before you perform the downgrade, you should make a full backup of each desktop configuration. There are a number of things that can go wrong during the downgrade process, so it is important to have a backup to revert to Windows 8 should it become necessary to abort the downgrade. Incidentally, simply making a backup is not enough. It is equally important to test your backup.

Don't forget about the boot configuration

A critical, but easily forgotten step in the downgrade process is to reconfigure your computer's BIOS. Unlike previous versions of Windows, Windows 8 uses Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). You'll to disable UEFI and enable legacy boot for Windows 7 to work properly. To do so, go to Settings, click PC Settings, and go to the General tab.

Then, click Advanced Startup and then click the UEFI Firmware Settings tile. You can now disable Secure Boot and enable Legacy Boot. This will allow Windows 7 to be installed. Of course, if you are running Windows 8 on virtual PCs, it will probably be easier to simply delete and recreate the virtual PCs than to change the boot type.

As you can see, there are a number of steps involved in downgrading to Windows 7, and the transition is often anything but smooth. It is a good idea to test the downgrade process in a lab environment before attempting it in your production environment.

This was first published in December 2013

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Essential Guide

How to migrate off XP and make a Microsoft Windows 8 upgrade
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