This is the 3rd in a set of small articles on modification and use of Windows 7 install media: multi-version, UEFI boot, driver injection, and downgrade activation. The focus will be on USB flash media.
Well, 31 October, 2016 brings the end of an era.
OEMs like Lenovo will no longer be able to ship machines with a Windows 7 Pro preload. Fortunately downgrade rights will persist. Windows 10 Pro users will be able to downgrade to Windows 7 Pro. (NOTE: everything I can find online says that’s the case. I can’t personally guarantee it.)
14 November 2016 Correction: OEMs are able to ship Windows 7 preloads after 31 October if they have an inventory of previously-purchased licenses. Lenovo, for example, still has Windows 7 machines available as of this date. Apologies for the misinformation!
Finding Windows 7 install media may or may not be a problem, but activation can be an issue. OEM preloads, factory media, and user-made recovery media shouldn’t need activation, but clean installs from Microsoft media will. This will apply to clean installs on machines that originally had ‘7 Pro installed, and to first-time clean installs to machines that shipped with ‘8.x or ’10 Pro.
Microsoft’s downgrade activation is … odd, to say the least. I’ll try for a TLDR translation here. Links to MS documents are below.
So: Run your install from MS media. Use an existing – already in use – activation key for Windows 7 Pro. That will probably fail but you should be offered a phone number to use for activation.
You have to use a legitimate key in order to get far enough into the activation process to be offered the phone number. A made-up key will fail too early. If you use a key that hasn’t been used before, it will be consumed by the activation, and wasted. Probably not what you want.
My own experience in several of these downgrade activations has been interesting. They were all on Lenovo ThinkPads. I used the key from the battery compartment of my T420 and it just activated immediately online with no call required. There may be something to using an OEM key from the same manufacturer as the target machine. I can’t be sure that it will avoid the extra steps, but it has for me.
Some Microsoft documents:
Downgrade rights (PDF)