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How to go back to an older version after updating to Windows 10

Can you believe it? Windows 10 has been out for almost two years now, with no fewer than two major updates already issued under its name.

If you are still running Windows 7 or 8.1 and contemplating on upgrading to Windows 10, you may have missed out on a free upgrade since Microsoft stopped its free Windows 10 update program last year. The only way to upgrade your Windows 7 or 8.1 machine now is by shelling out cash for a Windows 10 Home or Pro license.

Psst… There’s a new lightweight version of Windows 10 called Windows 10 S. Click here to learn more.

If you are a little apprehensive and worried that you might not like Windows 10 (click here for the 10 reasons not to switch to Windows 10), fret not. If you are within 30 days of your upgrade date, Microsoft included a way to roll back to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 if you’re not satisfied.

In Windows 10, rolling back to a prior installation of Windows 7 or 8.1 is easy and straightforward. When you update, Windows 10 actually stores a copy of your old Windows version in a folder called Windows.old. This makes the 30-day rollback window possible, so if you are planning on rolling back, please don’t delete this folder. 

Rolling back using Windows 10 Recovery

If you have decided you want to roll back to Windows 7 or 8.1, here are our quick steps to guide you through it.

Before you begin: As with any major system change like this, it is always a good idea to backup your files on an external drive or to a cloud service, just in case. Also, make sure you are logged in under a local administrator account. If you are under a standard account, these options might not appear.

  1. Go to Settings. (Click Start >> Settings. Alternatively, you could click Windows Key + I)

     2. On the Settings window, click on Update & Security.

Settings edit

3. Under Update & Security, you have a number of options. Select Recovery.

4. From here, you should see the section “Go back to Windows 7 (or 8.1). Just click “Get Started” to get the ball rolling.

Go Back to Windows 7 edit

5. The “Why are you going back?” window comes next. Just check any of the listed reasons provided then click Next. (The “Tell us more” box is optional).

Rollback reasons

6. At this point, a “Check for Updates?” window may appear. Clicking “Check for Updates” will download patches for Windows 10 you have not applied yet. If your reasons for rolling back are software glitches and/or missing features, this might be a better option for you than a complete rollback. You could always do your planned rollback after the update anyway.

If you just want to proceed without updating, just click “No, thanks.”

Rollback Updates

7. A few more windows containing important tips and notes about the rollback will now appear. Please read through these items since they are crucial for a successful update. Things like not turning off your PC during the update, backing up your files and making sure you have your account login password are all equally important steps that are recommended for the rollback.

(Note: In some cases, the rollback may be prevented by user profiles created on Windows 10. A window advising you to delete these user profiles may appear. You can’t proceed with the rollback if you don’t delete these Windows 10 profiles.)

When ready, click Next through each window.

Rollback What you need

8. Finally, the “Thanks for trying Windows 10” window will appear. Choosing “Go back to Windows 7” will start the rollback process. 

Thank you

At this point, sit back, grab a cup of coffee and just wait until the rollback finishes. Depending on your machine configuration, this process may take up to an hour or longer.

When the roll back is complete, you’ll be greeted by the familiar login screen and as advised, you may need to reinstall some of your applications and restore some of your settings. Your files should be intact, though, even the ones you created after you updated to Windows 10.

Rolling Back via Fresh Install

If your 30-day rollback window is over, there is still a way you can go back to an older version of Windows. Unfortunately, in this case, unless you have a full image backup using third party software, the only way to go back to a previous Windows version is to do a clean install. This will wipe your system so make sure you have a backup of your files.

If you are using downloaded installation media (Windows 7 or 8.1 isos) via the Microsoft website and rolling back with a DVD or a USB drive, you may need your 25-character product key again for activation during the installation process. If you bought a retail copy of Windows, the product key will come with the packaging. Alternatively, some computers will have a product key sticker on them. If you bought Windows 7 or 8.1 online, the product key should have been emailed to you. 

Additionally, most PCs have a recovery option for a factory reset. This option will reinstall the Windows version that came with your computer from a hidden recovery partition. This will delete all your files and settings too so have that backup handy. Usually, with this option, the activation is automatically handled by the installation process so there is no need to enter your product key.

Clearing old Windows installations

Previous version

On the flip side, if you are happy with Windows 10 and you have decided to move forward with it, you could delete the rollback data and free up space.

The rollback data, including the aforementioned Windows.old folder, typically takes up about 30GB of space. If you decide not to rollback and you need the disk space, deleting your older version of Windows is a quick way of reclaiming hard disk space.

The easiest way of doing this is by opening Settings, then System,  click on “Storage” and click on “This PC (C:).” This will give you a breakdown of the storage space used, categorized by type.

To delete the old Windows installation data, scroll down and select “Temporary Files”. Click on “Delete previous versions” under “Previous version of Windows” to clear out your rollback data and reclaim storage space.

Obviously, deleting the previous version will permanently disable any rollback options so proceed with caution. Also, if you haven’t rolled back and your 30-day window is up, Windows 10 will automatically delete your previous version files, clearing out space.

Should you or shouldn’t you?

Windows 10 is Microsoft’s grand way of compromising between the stable functionality of Windows 7 and the futuristic, touchscreen-focused features of Windows 8.1, but some users may have tried it and decided to revert to a prior Windows version for a myriad of reasons, be it device driver incompatibilities, legacy software issues, privacy concerns, user interface preference or a steeper learning curve.

Although the general consensus is that Windows 10 is a worthy, solid upgrade that addresses the deficiencies of prior Windows versions, these are definitely legitimate reasons why you may decide to postpone an update or even perform a rollback.

However, the faster startups, new multitasking features, a fresh new browser, the great new start menu and better-integrated search with Cortana may just win you over. Who knows? You may even just fall in love.

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