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Q. I'm done with Windows 10. How do I get back to Windows 7? Getty Images

Q. I'm done with Windows 10. How do I get back to Windows 7?

Q:  I do not wish to continue with Windows 10. What's the best way to get back to Windows 7?

A. It’s easy to roll back a Win10 upgrade provided you do so within a month of installation. After that, it’s still possible to go back to Win7 or Win8.1, but the process requires more effort.

As part of the Win10 upgrade process, the older OS setup was saved in a folder called Windows.old. This temporary and hidden system folder contains all the files and configuration information needed to restore the original OS.

As you might expect, Windows.old is typically quite large. It consumes so much disk space that Microsoft designed it to self-destruct after 30 days; the folder will be deleted by System Cleanup and the freed disk space will be returned to service.

Windows.old can also be deleted manually — intentionally or not — by various system-cleanup tools. (See the next item: “How to remove the huge Windows.old folder.”)

Just remember that once Windows.old has been deleted, you can no longer use Win10’s automated tool to roll back to the previous Windows version.

(Note: As of this writing, Win10 has been out less than a month. So the automated cleanup should not have been triggered yet. Everyone who upgraded to Win10 should still have the automated rollback option available — at least through Aug. 28.)

Here’s how to trigger the rollback:

  • Click on the start icon.
  • Click Settings/Update & security/Recovery.
  • Click the Get started button in the “Go back to [Windows 7 or Windows 8.1]” option (see Figure 1).


    Win10-rollback message

    Figure 1. The Win10 rollback option is temporarily displayed in the Win10 Recovery settings. The offer expires a month after Win10's installation.

  • After you click Get Started, the system will churn for a while. When it’s done, you should be back where you started.
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If the Go back to … option isn’t there or doesn’t work, your next-best option is to use the most recent backups or system images for the previous OS.

First, save all important user files and folders (e.g., Documents) residing on the new Win10 setup; copy the data to an external drive, to cloud storage, or to some other safe place that’s off the main system drive. Next, use your backup tool’s recovery disk to boot your system; then restore your previous OS from backups or system images. Last, copy your user files back from wherever you stored them.

No backups? (Really?) You can still roll back, but more laboriously:

  • Save all important user files and folders on the Win10 setup to a safe place that’s off the main system drive.
  • Boot your PC, using your previous Windows version’s setup medium (disk, flash drive, etc.).
  • Install a fresh copy of Windows; that’ll delete/overwrite the Win10 installation.
  • Once the new copy of Win7/8 is running and updated, reinstall your applications and redo your customizations. (Yes, it’s a pain.)
  • Copy your user files from wherever you stored them.
  • At the end, you’ll be more or less back to the place you were before the upgrade to Win10.
  • Make a full backup or system image so you’ll never have to do a manual rollback (or a from-scratch restore) like this again.

After any type of rollback, recovery, or reinstall, I recommend running some basic cleanup and maintenance tools to catch errors and remove construction debris.

At a minimum, I suggest error-checking the restored drive, running a junk-file/Registry cleaner, and doing a full-disk defrag or optimization. For help with that, see the Jan. 16, 2014, Top Story, “Keep a healthy PC: A routine-maintenance guide.”

Bottom line: Although there are multiple ways to roll a Windows 10 installation back to Win7 or Win8.1, doing so within a month of Win10’s installation will make the process considerably easier.

(Originally published on Windows Secrets on Thursday, August 19, 2015.)


Editor's note: We feature an abridged Q&A from Fred Langa's LANGALIST, a column available exclusively to paid subscribers of the Windows Secrets newsletter, on Wednesdays. What you see here is just a small sampling of what Langa's writing for the newsletter — go here for more information on how to subscribe.

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