Buying a new computer, but don't want Windows 8?

So, if you are buying a new computer, and don't like Windows 8 (or are afraid you won't like it) my advice is simple:

Only buy a computer with Windows 8 Pro (or find a manufacturer who will sell you one with Windows 7). Unfortunately, most laptops you buy at major retail stores will come with Windows 8, and in most cases will come with "Windows 8" (non-Pro) which would have been called "Home Edition" in the Windows 7 days.

If you are trying to hunt down a very low priced laptop, you should be careful shopping at retail stores. Many sales people will mislead you claiming that "you have the option to install Windows 7" or "You can upgrade this to Windows 8 Pro". Only Windows 8 Pro gives you what Microsoft calls "Downgrade rights". Buying a computer with Windows 8 (non-pro) will result in additional fees. Typically the price difference between Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro is less than $50 when you configure a new system. However, if you want to upgrade after the fact, the upgrade cost will be $100-200. So my advice is spend the $50 now. Also, used systems with Windows Pro licenses have higher resale values because they can be purchased by both home users and small businesses who need the Pro edition and don't want to spend the money on an extra license.

If you are at the store, keep an eye out for these stickers:

What are the other important reasons to buy Windows 8 Pro instead of Windows 8 non-Pro.

  • We already mentioned downgrade rights.
  • Most important is the ability to join Windows Server domains. Without Windows 8 Pro you cannot connect the computer to your companies Windows Server network. (Same is true with Windows 7, Vista, and XP, you need to "Pro", "Business", "Enterprise", or "Ultimate" editions. "Home" editions will not work with Windows Server domains)
  • Windows 8 Pro features "BitLocker" which is full disk encryption for your laptop. If setup properly, your data can be safe from laptop theft with BitLocker. (and open source alternative is TrueCrypt, but there are upsides and downsides to both.)

So, you got your Windows 8 Pro laptop and hate Windows 8 and want to downgrade to Windows 7 Pro? Here's how to do it if you know how to reinstall an OS yourself:

  • Step 1: Activate your copy of Windows 8 Pro through Microsofts servers.
  • Step 2: Retrieve your Windows 8 Pro license key. If you have a sticker with the product key on your laptop, thats perfect, however most new laptops are shipping without product key stickers. Product keys can either now be found in the BIOS settings of your new computer or you need to use a product key recovery tool. (I recommend "Produkey")
  • Step 3: Make sure your Windows 8 product key is in a safe place. I recommend writing it on the bottom of the laptop, perhaps under the battery.
  • Step 4: Obtain Windows 7 Installation media. Microsoft recommends contacting your manufacturer for a Windows 7 recovery CD) However, you can download the .iso direct from Microsoft through "Digital River".
  • Step 5: Obtain any legitimate Windows 7 Pro product key. (It can be from your old laptop, or a friends laptop, it doesn't matter)
  • Step 6: Install Windows 7, put in any Windows 7 Pro product key. It should activate.

How it works:
When you activate Windows, your computer sends a description of itself to Microsoft with unique identifiers from the computers hardware. Microsoft then recognizes that product key with your hardwares description. When you activate Windows 8 Pro, Microsoft's servers will remember your computer's unique identifier as being activated for Windows 8 Pro. When you install Windows 7 Pro and put in ANY key, Microsoft's servers will look at the unique hardware identifier and remember: "Oh, I remember that computer, it's already activated for Windows 8 Pro, so we can activate the computer for Windows 7 Pro too." and won't do anything with the Windows 7 product key you entered. (so you can use a friends product key, and not worry about it causing problems)

  • Step 6a: If for some reason activation fails, you will get a screen like this:

    you will need to call Microsoft give them your Windows 8 Pro key, along with a Windows 7 Pro key, and they will give you the activation code. However, if your copy of Windows 8 Pro was properly activated, it should activate without needing to call Microsoft.

Bottom line: avoid trying to save a few dollars buying laptops "on-sale" at retail stores, especially for your business. Consult with an IT professional *before* you buy, and beware of uninformed sales staff. Purchasing the wrong product trying to save a few bucks can end up costing a lot more money in the long run.