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I hate Windows 11. Can I downgrade to Windows 10? [Ask ZDNet]

Got a tech question? Ed Bott and ZDNet's squad of editors and experts probably have the answer. This week: Windows downgrades, laptop upgrades, and tax deadlines.

Welcome to this week's installment of Ask ZDNet, where we answer the questions that make Dear Abby's eyes glaze over. 


In the mailbag this week: Is it possible to downgrade from Windows 11 to Windows 10? What's the best way to avoid paying a penalty for filing your taxes late? And how hard is it to replace the hard drive in a laptop? 

If you've got a question about any of the topics ZDNet covers, one of our team of editors and contributors probably has an answer. If they don't, we'll find an outside expert who can steer you in the right direction. 

Questions can cover just about any topic that's remotely related to work and technology, including PCs and Macs, mobile devices, security and privacy, social media, home office gear, consumer electronics, business etiquette, financial advice... well, you get the idea. 

Send your questions to ask@zdnet.com. Due to the volume of submissions, we can't guarantee a personal reply, but we do promise to read every letter and respond right here to the ones that we think our readers will care about. 

Ask away. 

Can I downgrade from Windows 11 Pro to Windows 10 Pro?

Windows 10 Pro was working great. Windows 11 ain't there yet and is causing headaches for me. Can I replace Windows 11 with Windows 10? Please tell me the answer is yes.

OK, the answer is yes. Well, technically, the answer is "Yes, but there's a catch."

The catch is that you can't "downgrade" from Windows 11 to Windows 10; you have to do a clean install. That means backing up and restoring your data files and reinstalling all your apps. But your license for Windows 11 will suffice to activate Windows 10 and vice versa, which means you'll still have the option to upgrade to Windows 11 later after Microsoft has (one hopes) fixed the things that are annoying you right now.

If this is a new PC that came with Windows 11 preinstalled, let me ask, are you sure you want to do this? The PC maker designed this system to run Windows 11. You might find glitches and hardware incompatibilities when you install Windows 10, and those problems might be even more annoying than whatever issues you have with Windows 11.

If the PC was originally designed to run Windows 10, your chances of successfully installing Windows 10 are much better. In any case, I recommend making a complete backup of your system before going any further.

The ideal way to do a clean install is to download a Windows 10 recovery image made specifically for your PC model. See this article for instructions on how to find out whether this solution is available for your PC: "How to get a free Windows (or Linux) recovery image for your OEM PC."

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If you can't find a recovery image, you'll have to download and install Windows 10 manually. To create bootable installation media, you'll need a USB flash drive with at least 8GB capacity. Microsoft's Media Creation Tool will erase and format the drive, so make sure it doesn't contain any important files. With those caveats, here's how to proceed.

  1. Insert the USB flash drive in your Windows 11 PC and disconnect any other nonessential USB devices; then go to https://aka.ms/downloadwindows10.
  2. Under the heading "Create Windows 10 installation media," click Download Tool Now.
  3. Run the Media Creation Tool Installer and follow the prompts to create bootable Windows 10 installation media using your USB flash drive. Leave the drive attached to your Windows 11 PC.
  4. Go to Settings > System > Recovery and, under the Advanced Startup heading, click Restart Now.
  5. At the Windows 11 recovery menu, choose Use A Device and select your USB drive. When you see the prompt to boot from the USB drive, tap the spacebar to start Windows Setup.
  6. Follow the prompts to install Windows 10. When you reach the step where you're asked to enter a product key, click I Don't Have A Product Key and then be certain to choose the edition (Home or Pro) that you're "downgrading" from.

When the installation is complete, you should boot into Windows 10, and the operating system should activate automatically. You'll need to install the latest updates, and you might need to download some drivers from the PC maker's website. Once you've restored your data files and reinstalled any apps, you can get back to work.

Is there an easy, fast way to file my taxes before the deadline?

I procrastinated, and now the filing deadline for my income tax return is only a week away. Is there an easy way to file my taxes that doesn't involve paying a fortune? What happens if I file after the deadline?

We have some good news for you. This year's Federal income tax deadline for most residents of the United States is April 18, 2022, three days later than usual. You can thank the District of Columbia and its Emancipation Day holiday for the extra weekend. (Washington, D.C., holidays impact tax deadlines for everyone.) If you live in Maine or Massachusetts, you have until April 19, 2022, to file your return as a result of the Patriots' Day holiday in those states.

If your return is simple and your adjusted gross income (AGI) is under $73,000, you can get help filling out your Federal return online and filing it for free, and you might even qualify for a free state return. The Internal Revenue Service has a well-organized Free File Online Options page where you can track down all your choices. (Spoiler alert: The tax software companies really don't want you to find this page.)

If your AGI is over the limit or your return is complex (if you're self-employed, for example, or you have rental income or capital gains from the sale of stock), you'll need to pay for professional help or pay for tax preparation software. The good news is you can get an automatic six-month extension, no questions asked, by filing for an extension right away. You can even do it online, using one of the providers listed on this IRS Free File page.

Note that this extension gives you extra time to prepare your return, but you still have to pay whatever taxes are due by the April 18 deadline. If you underpay, you'll pay interest and, possibly, penalties. And don't wait until October 1 to start working on this because there's no option for another extension.

If you miss the filing deadline and don't request an extension, you'll be OK as long as you don't owe any taxes. If you do owe money to Uncle Sam, you'll pay a late-filing penalty for each month you're late. If you're more than 60 days late, your minimum penalty could be $210 or 100% of the amount of tax due, whichever is less. It adds up, so don't procrastinate!

Can I replace the system drive in my laptop with a bigger one?

When I bought my laptop last year, I thought 128GB would be enough storage space. It wasn't, and now I'm almost out of disk space and having to struggle every time I save a file. Can I replace the SSD in my laptop with a bigger one?

I wish I had a better answer for you, but you're probably stuck with the storage you specified when you bought the laptop originally. In general, laptops aren't designed for expandability, which means you'll need expert help and the steady hands of a Swiss watchmaker just to open the case. And then you're likely to find that the system drive is soldered in place and can't be swapped out.

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There are some exceptions. Microsoft's Surface Pro 8 and Surface Pro X, along with the Surface Pro 7 models sold through business channels, have a nifty little pop-up door that allows you to replace the system drive. Some business-class models from other OEMs have system drives that can be replaced if you're willing to take the laptop apart to get to the drive slot (some models even have a second drive slot, so you can expand storage without losing your existing drive). You'll need to find the service manual for your laptop to see if that's an option, but don't get your hopes up.

So, what's your alternative, short of replacing an otherwise perfectly good laptop? The easiest quick fix is to shift as many data files to the cloud as possible, using on-demand options like those available from OneDrive and Dropbox. If your laptop has an SD or MicroSD slot, you can add a significant amount of storage there; just be aware that it will be dramatically slower than your SSD. And if you mostly use your laptop at a desk, you can always connect an external SSD like the Crucial X6 or Samsung T7. Those drives aren't terribly expensive, and they're fast enough to handle just about any task you throw at them.

Send your questions to ask@zdnet.com. Due to the volume of submissions, we can't guarantee a personal reply, but we do promise to read every letter and respond right here to the ones that we think our readers will care about. Be sure to include a working email address in case we have follow-up questions. We promise not to use it for any other purpose.  


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