Updated Windows 8 got you down? Don't worry; even if you buy a new machine with Windows 8 preinstalled, you should be able to downgrade it to Windows 7, if you prefer – that is, unless you bought a new consumer PC or laptop from HP.
It's a little-known fact that Windows licenses include the right to downgrade to earlier versions of the OS, at the customer's discretion. Customers whose new PCs came with Windows 8 are free to replace the OS with Windows 7 or even Vista – heaven forbid – at no additional charge, provided they're willing to do the work themselves.
Just don't try it with an HP box. According to a post on the PC maker's Windows 8 FAQ, downgrades to Windows 7 are only supported on HP's "commercial" notebooks and PCs; that is, the ones marketed to businesses. Buyers of consumer HP kit, on the other hand – the kind sold through big-box retailers – should plan on getting used to Windows 8.
"After October 26, 2012, HP consumer desktop and notebook products will ship only with Windows 8," the post cautions. "Windows 7 will not be supported on these new platforms, and no drivers, apps, or Windows 7 content will be available through HP."
On the one hand, that might actually be a plus. Many of the "apps" HP ships with new PCs are more rightly called "crapware." Some of the preinstalled programs duplicate functions already provided by Windows, while others are trial versions of third-party software nobody asked for.
But drivers are a different matter. Stock Windows 7 will install and boot on most modern PCs just fine, but built-in peripherals can be problematic. In particular, laptop add-ons such as webcams, card readers, touchpads, fingerprint readers, and the like may not work with any of Windows 7's built-in drivers. If HP won't provide drivers either, downgrading to Windows 7 may mean customers will lose some of their hardware's functionality.
It's worth noting that HP isn't being as stingy with customers who want to go the opposite direction. Over the past few months, the PC maker has quietly been rolling out Windows 8 drivers for some of its consumer models that originally shipped with Windows 7, for customers who want to upgrade.
It seems clear that, much like Microsoft itself, HP has gone "all in" for Windows 8 – whether consumers like it or not.
That said, HP won't actually stop anyone from downgrading their consumer hardware, if they insist. Although HP won't support the Windows 7 OS on machines that shipped with Windows 8, it will continue to support the hardware itself – at least, up to a point.
"If there is an issue where HP diagnostics are required OR it is determined that the loaded software or upgrade operating system is causing the issue, HP may suggest returning the system to the original Windows 8 OS that shipped with the computer," the company's FAQ post explains.
In other words, "We're not twisting anybody's arm here. Do what you want – but good luck to you." ®
HP has since contacted us to let us know it has revised the language in its Windows 8 FAQ post. The post now reads as follows:
Yes, customers can downgrade to Windows 7 and you will remain protected by HP product warranties.
However, HP has not tested all Windows 8 platforms for Windows 7 and we may not have your particular drivers available.
If you choose to install a different operating system (OS) and have a problem that requires HP support, you may need to restore the original OS to fully diagnose your problem
Readers will note, however, that while the new language certainly sounds friendlier, there has been no substantive change in HP's policy toward downgrades.