To confirm that you are running a legitimately pu rchased copy of Windows Vista in accordance with the terms of the End User License Agreement (EULA), Microsoft relies on Windows Product Activation, a process which verifies your Product Key and hardware configuration online or over the phone.
While activation has been around since Windows XP was introduced, some of the measures surrounding it have been tightened as part of the new Microsoft Software Protection Platform. This chapter looks at how Activation and Validation work, though note that I don't cover any illegal methods of bypassing Activation.
The End User License Agreement (EULA) for Windows Vista contains the terms and conditions of acceptable usage for the OS. You do not actually own Windows Vista outright; Microsoft gives you permission (a license) to use the software under certain terms and conditions.
OEM VS. UPGRADE VS. RETAIL EDITIONS
While their contents do not differ, there are some notable differences between the license conditions for OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) copies of Vista - sometimes called 'System Builder' editions - versus the Upgrade editions, vs. the Retail editions:
OEM: An OEM edition of Vista comes pre-installed on, or accompanying, a new PC and is bound specifically to that PC. If you substantially alter or upgra de the PC on which the OEM copy is installed (e.g. change the motherboard and CPU), or you attempt to install the OEM copy on another PC you will fail activation since you have breached the licensing conditions. There are several other limitations of OEM versions, including limited or no technical support from Microsoft. This is why OEM copies are the cheapest editions.
Upgrade: An Upgrade Edition requires that you already own a qualifying previous full version of Windows.
However in terms of upgrading your PC or transferring Vista to a new PC, there are no specific limitations on the number of times you can do this.
Retail: The full Retail Edition does not require the ownership of any other version of Windows, and can be installed on any PC, and allows unlimited upgrades or moves to another PC. This is why it is the most expensive edition.
However all editions of Vista must adhere to the following general conditions of use.
GENERAL CONDITIONS OF USE
Some important conditions of use you should consider from the EULA for the average home PC user are spelled out in plain English below:
The OS is licensed to one specific device at any time, namely the PC on which it is installed. You can't install the same copy of Vista on multiple PCs unless you have specifically purchased multiple licenses - one for each PC.
You can transfer Vista from one PC to another as many times as you want, as long as it is not installed on more than one machine at a time. However this does not apply to the OEM version which is always bound to the original PC for which it wa s bought or first installed on.
You can upgrade or alter the hardware in the PC on which Vista is installed as often as you wish. This does not apply to the OEM version, for which any major system upgrades may invalidate the license. If the edition includes both the 32-bit and 64-bit version of Vista, you can install one or the other, but not both at the same time. Even if you order a 64-bit version of your edition, you cannot install and use both 32-bit and 64-bit editions at the same time.
You must Activate your copy of Windows within 30 days of installation, and you must allow it to
periodically connect to the Internet to Validate - see further below for details. Some OEM versions of Vista come pre-installed and already activated, so manual activation is not required. There is a legitimate workaround to extending Activation, and it is covered below.
You are allowed to make one backup copy of the Vista DVD for your own use.
The above has been provided for information purposes only and cannot be the sole basis for any actions you take - you must read the EULA which accompanies your particular edition of Vista carefully for yourself to ensure you understand all the licensing terms and conditions as applicable to you.
This section goes through the procedure for activation, and also addresses any common issues you may experience.
When you first install Vista, you will be prompted to enter your Product Key, which appears as a series of 25 letters or numbers separated by dashes in the format: xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx. This key can be found on a sticker on your computer if you purchased the PC with Vista pre-installed, on the installation disk holder of your Vista retail package, or on the Vista manual. The Product Key is very important for two reasons:
The Vista installation DVD contains all versions of Windows Vista, from Home Basic through to
Ultimate - it is the Product Key which tells Vista the correct version to install.
The Product Key is integral to validating and activating your copy of Windows Vista. If the key is used by anyone else at the same time as you, or on another one of your PCs, this will invalidate your key.
Make sure you keep your Product Key in a safe place, do not share it with anyone else and if your PC or copy of Vista did not come with a Product Key then contact your retailer or the person from whom you purchased the Vista DVD and ask them to give you one as it is absolutely necessary (unless you are in a corporate or business environment). If you wish at any time to alter your Product Key while using Vista, you can do so by going to Control Panel>System and clicking the 'Change product key' link at the bottom of the box. Entering a new key will require you to reactivate. If you want to look at options for purchasing additional Product Key(s) online from Microsoft see here.
Once you have installed Windows Vista, you will have exactly 30 days within which to activate Windows.
During this time you can use Windows Vista as normal, but you will regularly be prompted to activate. To see how many days you have left before your activation grace period runs out, either click the prompt in the Notification Area, or go to Control Panel>System and click the link at the bottom of the box, or go to the Start>Search Box and type " slui" (without quotes) and press Enter.
If you are aware that your PC may undergo some further changes shortly, such as the installation or removal of key pieces of hardware it is recommended that you do not activate Windows right away. You have 30 days (or more - see below) within which to bed down your final hardware configuration and I suggest you use it.
Activating before your hardware setup is finalized could see you having to re-a ctivate repeatedly, including having to call Microsoft to complete Activation or running into other potential complications. Microsoft generally views multiple activations in a short space of time as quite suspicious.
There is a legal method by which you can extend the grace period before Activation by another 30 days, up to a maximum of 120 days in total, before you must Activate. Follow these steps to do so:
1. Open an Administrator Command Prompt - see the Vista Usage Notes chapter
2. In the Command Prompt type "slmgr -rearm" (without quotes) and press Enter.
3. Reboot your PC and you should now ha ve an additional 30 days before Activation.
4. You can repeat Steps 1 - 3 above to give you a total of 120 days maximum before Activation is required.
This is useful if you want to bed down your hardware prior to final activation, or if you want to try out one of the different editions of Vista, by not entering a Product Key during installation and extending the Activation period. However at some point you will have to Activate for your copy of Vista to be legal.
Once you are ready to activate, use one of the means further above to access the activation application and click the 'Activate Windows online now' button. When activation commences, you will automatically connect to a Microsoft server and send several pieces of information specific to your system including:
The version of the OS and the version of the activation software
Your Product Key
The Internet Protocol (IP) address of your PC
A set of non-unique hardware hashes generated based on your hardware configuration. These hashes
don't have any personal information, nor can they be used to determine the make/model of your PC.
If automa tic activation fails or you are not connected to the Internet, you will be given instructions on how to activate Vista by contacting Microsoft over the phone. If Activation succeeds you will not be required to reactivate Windows Vista again unless you substantially alter the PC's main hardware components; if your Product Key is found to be in use by another system and/or turns out to be an illegally obtained one; or if there are signs of tampering with Windows to circumvent Activation.
REDUCED FUNCTIONALITY MODE
Should you not activate successfully within 30 days, or if you do not reactivate within 3 days after any major hardware changes, or are found to be running a non-genuine version of Windows, you will enter Reduced Functionality mode in Vista. This will mean that certain features and capabilities of Vista will be disabled as detailed in this Microsoft Article. Non-genuine copies of Vista will have a 'This copy of Vista is not genuine'
stamp placed at the bottom right hand corner of the screen. You will need to successfully activate your copy of Vista to get back to normal.
Alongside Product Activation, Microsoft has implemented an additional anti-piracy feature into Windows called Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) Validation, or just Validation for short. Windows Vista will periodically connect to Microsoft servers to validate itself, sending similar information to that sent under Activation (see further above). This validation may also occur when you connect to Windows Update or download certain Microsoft updates. If Validation fails, the user will not be able to download updates from Microsoft, and can only download critical security updates through the Microsoft Download Center or through Windows Update set to automatically update (See the Control Panel chapter). The OS may also go into Reduced Functionality mode as discussed further above.
If you are having problems with WGA on a legitimate installation of Windows, visit the Windows Genuine Advantage Diagnostic Site. In particular, if you use Firefox as your main browser, Microsoft has released a Firefox plugin to allow WGA to work on this popular browser.
If you are still having problems with Activation or Valida tion, the only correct course of action is to contact Microsoft Technical Support for your particular country.