Windows 10 can sometimes be a real mess. Between botched updates, treating its users as beta testers, and adding features we never wanted it can be tempting to downgrade. But you shouldn’t go back to Windows 8.1, and we can tell you why.
Seriously: We installed Windows 8.1 and used it for a few hours so you wouldn’t have to.
You Give Up a Better Start Menu
It’s almost easy to forget, but Windows 8.1 didn’t have a real Start menu. Instead, it had a Start Screen. Windows 8.0 introduced the Start Screen with the hopes of ushering in an era of Windows tablets. It didn’t work well, and Microsoft capitulated, but only slightly. Windows 8.1 re-introduced the Start Button, but all it did was call up the Start Screen, which was a band-aid at best.
You can install a replacement program like Classic Shell or Start Menu 8, but that comes with its own issues. Classic Shell stopped active development, so you are opening yourself up to potential vulnerabilities. And other programs like Start Menu 8 either cost money, push extra add-ons, or both. Just look at this default install of Start Menu 8:
Clicking on any of those top four options will install programs immediately. And this is a 7-day trial, so eventually, you’ll have to pay to use the program.
With Windows 10, Microsoft finally brought back the Start Menu. Granted, it is far too cluttered and filled with ads, but that’s getting better. And more importantly, you can cut out all the tiles and get a look very close to Windows 7 if you prefer.
Full-Screen Apps Were a Pain
Another forgotten “feature” of Windows 8.1 was its push for full-screen apps. Microsoft wanted to go after the mobile market, so with the introduction of the Start Screen came full-screen apps designed for tablets that you couldn’t turn off. This was true even for apps where it wasn’t necessary—like the calculator app.
Instead of using the separate desktop view, apps are maximized and take up the entire screen. You had to learn touch or mouse gestures to get a side-by-side view, but it didn’t have near the versatility of programs run on the desktop.
Microsoft tried to help with tutorials, but that didn’t solve the underlying problem that the UI just wasn’t intuitive. The best thing to do was to optimize Windows 8.1 for desktop mode, but it still wasn’t perfect. Microsoft finally solved the problem in Windows 10 by dumping the Start Screen and putting the emphasis back on the desktop.
And while there are again programs to bypass this behavior on Windows 8, just like the Start Screen apps, they either cost money, come with extras, or both. It’s worth mentioning that when testing this, launching the calculator app with all defaults crashed one such program, ModernMix.
You Give Up Security
Windows 10 is far more secure than any version of Windows that came before it. While we have complained about the unnecessary features Microsoft has added, security has been a top priority.
Windows 10 includes features like Block Suspicious Behavior, Core Isolation and Memory integrity security, container technology, and Controlled Folder Access. Windows Defender’s exploit protection is a huge add-on and effectively replaces EMET, which Microsoft stopped developing. These features lock down the OS and make it harder to infect and hijack your system. Windows 8.1 is more secure than Windows 7, but every security feature introduced (from SmartScreen to Secure Boot) is included on Windows 10.
End of Support Is Coming
End of extended support is coming, and while this will hit Windows 7 sooner, after January 2023 Windows 8.1 will no longer receive critical updates. That may not be tomorrow, but it’s not far off either. And just like Windows 7, mainstream support has already ended.
Even with Windows 10, Microsoft focuses on its newest version first, which is true of any software company. When End of Service does hit, that means Microsoft will not patch any vulnerabilities or release any updates to prevent viruses from infecting your system.
Usually, as End of Service hits, other programs stop support for those versions of Windows. So you will be left with vulnerabilities in your OS and your installed software.
But Aren’t Windows 10 Updates Buggy?
While it may be true that Windows 10 Updates have been problematic, there are ways to mitigate this. First and most importantly, if you want stability don’t join the Insider program. Insider previews are the least stable by design.
If possible, upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, which will let you delay updates. The good news is, even if you don’t have Windows 10 Pro, Microsoft will soon let Windows 10 Home users pause updates for seven days, which is typically long enough to shake out significant problems.
Microsoft released bad updates with older versions of Windows just recently, so going back isn’t any safer. Ultimately it’s better to have some updates, even with those risks, than no updates at all.
Windows 8.1 Doesn’t Support New Processors
If your PC has an Intel 7th-generation CPU or AMD’s 7th-generation processor, installing Windows 8 (or 7) will lead to an “Unsupported Hardware” message. Microsoft introduced a policy in 2016 that limited support for newer processors.
If Windows detects your machine has new enough hardware, it will block updates. Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 existed before these processors, so realistically work needs to be done to bring them in line with hardware changes that have occurred.
Microsoft could do the work, but frankly, it doesn’t want to as that would require additional testing. Given its track record with testing as of late, one might even argue that they’ve made the best choice possible. But without updates, running Windows 8.1 on new hardware means you are running without extended support now instead of in 2023.
Windows 8.1 Keys are Expensive or Risky
To even downgrade to Windows 8.1, you will need a valid key. Microsoft doesn’t sell Windows 8.1 keys, so obtaining one will be difficult. You can take a risk on cheap keys, but you might end up with a key that isn’t valid and won’t stay activated. If you do have a Windows 8.1 key, you can still use it to activate Windows 10. So you could just as easily stay on Windows 10 for free.
Just Stick with Windows 10
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or distance just makes things blurry. Put down the rose-colored glasses: Windows 8.1 was a giant mess, and there’s a reason Microsoft abandoned it and started over. In the course of writing this article, we installed Windows 8.1 and used it for hours. It was a painful experience you don’t have to go through. Even with all its problems, you’re better on Windows 10. It’s more secure, better thought out, and will continue to see support for a long time to come.