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Hunter Bonner: A few ways to lift the curse of Windows 8

Any new computer sold today is going to come with Windows 8.1.

Windows 8 has had a cool reception from the public, to say the least. However, you don’t have to be stuck with this operating system. Here’s how you can get a new PC or upgrade your existing machine with an alternative to Windows 8.

First of all, by all accounts, Windows 7 is the most successful operating system since the launch of Windows XP. Vista was horrible, and Windows 8, quite frankly, still leaves me scratching my head thinking, “What is this crud?”

Windows 8 is a massive departure from the Windows operating systems of the past. It did away with the Start Menu, which had been a staple of the franchise since Windows 95.

For these reasons, consumers, businesses and information technology professionals alike did not much care for Windows 8. In fact, many businesses have chosen to stay on Windows 7, on both their existing machines and new ones.

In my opinion, Windows 7 is going to be around for a very long time, like Windows XP was. Whether it sticks around for as long as XP remains to be seen, but it’s going to be a long time.

So how can you, as a user, get a copy of Windows 7? If you’re in the market for a new machine, forget about walking into a big-box store and getting a machine with Windows 7 on it. They aren’t sold in stores anymore.

If you need a new machine, many companies including Dell and HP offer what is called a “Windows 7 Downgrade” option. In fact, some computer manufacturers will knock off as much as $100 or more on the downgrade. What this means is you get a shiny new machine, but with Windows 7 installed.

If you have an existing machine and you want to upgrade — say from Vista (you poor souls) — you really only have one choice. That choice is buying a copy online from a third-party retailer.

You cannot buy copies of Windows 7 on shelves anymore, or from Microsoft directly. However, many retailers stockpiled copies of Windows 7, anticipating that Windows 8 might not go over well. That bet has paid off. A quick Internet search will lead you to places where you can get a copy and then install the OS yourself.

A word of caution, though: Make sure that these are still original shrink-wrapped boxes to ensure you are not buying pirated software.

Another option is to hold off until Windows 9. There are already confirmed reports coming out of Microsoft that the company got the message on Windows 8 and will be bringing back a Windows 7 look and feel to its next operating system. Specifically, that includes the return of a real Start Menu — not the hybrid one in Windows 8.1, but the one you’re used to seeing.

If your machine is still holding up, just wait this one out. There is talk of a spring 2015 launch — so sorry, it will not be here in time for the Christmas shopping season.

Of course, I can already hear the Mac users out there saying, “Ditch Windows and go with a Mac!” And many have, as Apple’s Mac sales increased by 20 percent recently — most likely due to Windows users put off by Windows 8. So in the interest of fairness, and because I do not want my blog and Twitter feed blown up by Mac fanboys with cries of unbalanced writing, I’m throwing this out there as another alternative. Just make sure you can do everything you want with a Mac that you are currently doing on a PC.

Finally, there are a number of free open-source operating systems for you to try. Ubuntu is a popular one, and one I’ve mentioned using in previous articles for rescuing files. You can download Ubuntu and run it off a CD before making final changes to your hard drive. Not all programs will install on the Ubuntu operating system, so again, a word of caution before switching.

There are many alternatives to Windows 8 for you to choose from. Hopefully, some of these choices will inspire you to explore them and make your life a little easier. At least until Microsoft fixes its mess.

HUNTER BONNER is an information technologist. He can be reached via his blog and on Twitter @HunterBonner.