Learn About Product Activation

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Activation Options
Volume Activation Models
What If Systems Are Not Activated?
Product Keys

Product activation is the process of validating software with the manufacturer. Activation confirms the genuine status of a product and that the product key is not compromised, which helps ensure that Microsoft customers receive the software quality they expect. It is analogous to the activation of credit cards or new mobile phones. Activation establishes a relationship between the software’s product key and a particular installation of that software on a device. This association helps to prevent the product key from being used to activate the same copy of the software on multiple computers. Some changes to your device components or the software might require you to reactivate the software.

All activation methods that are used by Microsoft are designed to help protect user privacy. The data that is gathered is used to confirm that the software is a legally licensed copy. It is then aggregated for statistical analysis. Microsoft does not use or share this information to identify or contact the user or organization, except to prevent the unlicensed use of the software.

For example, during online activations, information such as the software version, language, the product key, the Internet Protocol (IP) address, and information about the hardware of the device are sent to Microsoft. The IP address is used to verify the location of the request to help prevent the use of stolen product keys, and because some editions of Windows such as Windows 7 Starter can be activated only within certain target market geographies.

Activation Options

Licenses for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 can be obtained through one of three basic channels: retail, original equipment manufacturer (OEM), or Volume Licensing. Each channel has its own unique methods of activation. Because organizations can obtain their operating systems through any of the three available channels, they can choose a combination of activation methods.


Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 products that are acquired through a retail store are individually licensed and are activated in the same way as retail versions of the Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 operating systems. Each purchased copy comes with one unique product key (printed on the product packaging), which the user enters during the product installation. The computer uses this product key to complete the activation after the installation of the operating system is complete. This final activation step can be accomplished online or by telephone.

Original Equipment Manufacturer

Most OEMs sell systems that include a standard build of the Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system. Hardware vendors perform OEM activation by associating the operating system to the firmware (basic input/output system, or BIOS) of the computer. This process occurs before the computer is sent to the customer so that no additional actions are required by the user. This method of activation is known as OEM activation.

OEM activation is valid as long as the customer uses the OEM-provided image on a system. To create a customized image, customers can use the image provided by the OEM as the basis for creating the custom image. Otherwise, a different activation method must be used.  For further details on customizing Windows and activation impacts refer to the following whitepaper.

Note   OEM activation is applicable to computers with Windows installed that are purchased through OEM channels.

Volume Licensing

Microsoft Volume Licensing offers customized programs that are tailored to the size and purchasing preference of the organization. These programs provide simple, flexible, and affordable solutions that enable organizations to easily manage their licenses. To become a Volume Licensing customer, the organization needs to set up a Volume License agreement with Microsoft.

There are two legal ways to acquire a full license for a new computer with a Windows client operating system. The first and most economical way is to have the license preinstalled through the original equipment manufacturer. The other option is to purchase a fully packaged retail product.

Microsoft Volume Licensing programs such as Open License, Select License, and Enterprise Agreements cover only upgrades to Windows client operating systems.  A qualifying OS licensing is needed for each computer before upgrade rights obtained through Volume Licensing can be exercised on these computers.

For more information on Volume Licensing including list of qualifying OS, go to https://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=73076.

Note:   Some editions of Windows, such as Windows 7 Enterprise, are available only through the Volume Licensing channel.

Volume Activation Models

Volume Activation allows volume license customers to automate the activation process so that it is transparent to users. Volume Activation applies to computers that are covered under a Volume Licensing program. It is used strictly as a tool for activation, and it is not tied to license invoicing or billing.

Volume Activation provides two models for completing volume activations: Key Management Service (KMS) and Multiple Activation Key (MAK). KMS allows organizations to activate systems within their network, and MAK activates systems on a one-time basis by using the hosted activation services provided by Microsoft. Customers can use either or both key types to activate systems in their environments.

Key Management Service

With KMS, IT pros can complete activations on their local network, eliminating the need for individual computers to connect to Microsoft for product activation. KMS is a lightweight service that does not require a dedicated system and can easily be co-hosted on a system that provides other services. By default, volume editions of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 connect to a system that hosts the KMS service to request activation. No action is required from the user.

KMS requires a minimum number of computers (physical or virtual machines) in a network environment. The organization must have at least five computers to activate Windows Server 2008 R2 and at least 25 computers to activate clients that are running Windows 7. These minimums are referred to as activation thresholds.

To use KMS activation with Windows 7, the computer must have the qualifying OS license (often obtained through OEMs as part of the new PC purchase) and contain a Windows Marker in BIOS.

Multiple Activation Key

MAK is used for one-time activation with Microsoft’s hosted activation services. There are two ways to activate computers using MAK. The first method is MAK Independent activation, which requires that each computer independently connect and be activated with Microsoft either over the Internet or by telephone. The second method is MAK Proxy activation. With this method, a computer acting as a MAK proxy gathers activation information from multiple computers on the network, and then sends a centralized activation request on their behalf. MAK Proxy activation is configured using the Volume Activation Management Tool (VAMT).

Note   KMS is the default key for Volume Activation clients. Using MAK activation requires installing a MAK key. For more information about converting KMS clients to MAK, see the Volume Activation Deployment Guide.

What If Systems Are Not Activated?

Activation is designed to provide a transparent activation experience for users. If activation does not occur immediately after the operating system is installed, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 still provide the full functionality of the operating system for a limited amount of time, or grace period. The length of a grace period is 30 days for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. After the grace period expires, both operating systems remind the user through notifications to activate the computer.

Grace Period

During the initial grace period, there are periodic notifications that the computer requires activation. Once per day, during the logon process, a notification appears to remind the user to activate the operating system. This continues until there are three days remaining in the grace period. For the first two of the final three days of the grace period, the notification appears every four hours. During the final day of the grace period, the notification appears every hour, on the hour.

Grace Period Expiration

After the initial grace period expires or activation fails, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 continue to notify users that the operating system requires activation. Until the operating system is activated, reminders that the computer must be activated appear in several places throughout the product:

  • Notification dialogs appear during logon after user credentials entry.

  • Notifications appear at the bottom of the screen above the notification area.

  • A persistent desktop notification remains with a black desktop background.

  • A reminder might appear when users open certain Windows applications.

Product Keys

Volume Activation does not change how Volume Licensing customers obtain their product keys. They can obtain MAK and KMS keys at the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC) Web site at https://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=107544 or by calling an Activation Call Center. Service Provider License Agreement (SPLA) partners can obtain keys by calling an Activation Call Center. Customers in the United States can call 1-888-352-7140. International customers should contact their local support center. For the telephone numbers of Activation Call Centers worldwide, go to https://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=107418. When calling a support center, customers must have the Volume License agreement.

Volume Licensing customers can log on to the VLSC Web site at any time to view their KMS key information. The VLSC Web site also contains information on how to request and use MAKs. For more information about MAK and KMS keys, including information about increasing the number of allowed activations, see the Existing Customers page at https://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=74008.