*
Microsoft.com Home|Site Map
Microsoft*
Search Microsoft.com for:
Software Piracy Protection 
|Partners
Software Piracy Protection Home » Activating Software » Product Activation Facts » FAQ
Product Activation Facts
What is Product Activation?

Microsoft Product Activation is an anti-piracy technology designed to verify that the product has been legitimately licensed.

Which Microsoft products will include Product Activation?

Product Activation is included in several versions of Microsoft software, including the Microsoft® Office 2003 System (including Office 2003 Suites and applications such as Word 2003, Visio® 2003, and Project 2003, Windows® XP , and Office XP (including applications such as Word 2002, Frontpage 2002, Visio 2002, and Project 2002)®. Product activation will be required in retail packaged products and in new PCs purchased from a PC manufacturer. In most instances. product activation will not be required for licenses acquired by a customer through one of Microsoft's volume licensing programs such as Open License or Select License.

Which customers will be required to activate?

All customers who purchase retail packaged products or a new PC from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) will be required to activate the software. The software on a new PC from an OEM may be activated in the factory. Product activation will not be required for licenses acquired by a customer through one of Microsoft's volume licensing programs such as Open License or Select License. Volume licensing programs can scale to even the smallest of businesses, as customers can qualify for the Microsoft Open License program by acquiring as few as five product licenses. More information is available at Microsoft's volume licensing Web site.

How does Microsoft Product Activation work?

Product Activation works by validating that the software's product key, required as part of product installation, has not been used on more PCs than is allowed by the software's end user license agreement (EULA). In general, Windows XP can be installed on one PC and Office 2003 or Office XP can be installed on one PC and the laptop computer used by the user of the one PC. (For specifics, please see the EULA accompanying your product.) Product key information, in the form of the product ID, is sent along with a "hardware hash" (a non-unique number generated from the PC's hardware configuration) to Microsoft's activation system during activation. In Windows XP SP1, the product key itself is sent in addition to the product ID. Activation is completed either directly via the Internet or by a telephone call to a customer service representative. Activations on the same PC using the same product key are unlimited. Product Activation discourages piracy by limiting the number of times a product key can be activated on different PCs.

Can a product (e.g. Windows XP or Office 2003) be remotely disabled through product activation?

No, the product cannot be remotely disabled through product activation.

Why is Microsoft asking customers to activate their software?

Microsoft designed Product Activation as a simple way to verify the software license and thwart the spread of software piracy. People who use illegal software not only hurt themselves, they also contribute to a problem that cumulatively can hurt job creation locally and regionally in the software industry and related businesses. Software piracy is an enormous drain on the global economy, according to the 2000 BSA Software Piracy Report. The report estimates worldwide losses in 2000 due to software piracy at almost $12 billion. Software piracy also has a significant impact on the high-tech industry, resulting in lost jobs, decreased innovation and higher costs to consumers.

How will Microsoft Product Activation help thwart piracy?

Product Activation will help reduce casual copying by ensuring that the copy of the software product being installed is legal and has been installed on a PC in compliance with the End User License Agreement (EULA). Installations beyond those allowed in the license agreement will fail to activate.

Haven't companies tried to implement anti-piracy technologies before and failed?

Anti-piracy technologies that have been used in the past have not been easy for customers to use and were generally viewed as unacceptable by customers and the industry. For example, some early PC products required specialized hardware components or boot diskettes that were cumbersome for the user. Product Activation is a breakthrough technology in that it makes activation a natural part of setting up the software and avoids the pitfalls of anti-piracy methods used in the early days of the PC industry.

How does the customer benefit from this approach?

Over time, reduced piracy means that the software industry can invest more in product development, quality and support. This ensures better products and more innovation for customers. Ultimately, customers will benefit from the economic impact of reduced piracy through more jobs and higher wages. Customers will also receive the best value for their software investment by being able to receive product updates and other product information. Product Activation also helps prevent unsuspecting customers from purchasing counterfeit software. Customers who purchase counterfeit products could find they are missing key elements, such as user manuals, product keys, certificates of authenticity and even software code. They may also find that the counterfeit software contains viruses or does not work as well as the genuine product does.

Where has Microsoft Product Activation been tested?

Product Activation was piloted in Office 2000 in its 1999 release in six countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China (including Hong Kong SAR), New Zealand and the United States. This has resulted in over 7 million successful activation transactions. Microsoft received significant feedback from customers who have used product activation and has incorporated that feedback into the latest version of Product Activation being used in Windows XP, Office XP suites and applications, and Office 2003 System products.

What were some of the key lessons learned by Microsoft from the pilot of activation with Office 2000?

Customers generally found activation to be easy and unobtrusive. Telephone calls average two to three minutes, with hold times of two to three minutes or less. On average, over 70 percent of the activation requests are through the Internet and approximately 2 percent of activation requests are due to hardware changes or other reactivations.

How Product Activation Works

Will Product Activation make it more difficult for customers to install and use the software?

Product Activation is designed to be simple and unobtrusive for customers who legitimately acquire the software license. Customers will have the choice of activating via the Internet or by telephone. Customers will also be able to delay activation for several uses of the product, until a time that is convenient for them. For those who obtain a copy of the software illegally, Product Activation will make their inappropriate use of the product more difficult. Millions of customers have used Product Activation to date with little or no difficulty.

Will customers be notified that they have to activate?

Yes. Customers will be notified of the activation requirement on the outside of the box when they acquire a retail version of the product. In addition, for applications such as Office, customers will be reminded to activate each time they launch an application up until the 50th launch—the maximum number of times they can launch the product before they are required to activate. For the Windows operating system, customers will be reminded each time they log in and at common intervals up to the end of the activation grace period (30 days) before they are required to activate. If they have not activated the product within the specified time frame, they will need to do so to continue using the product.

Is there a grace period during which the product will work without being activated?

Yes, a user may use a product for a certain amount of time without activating it. For the Office XP family of products and the Office 2003 System, the grace period is the first 50 launches. For Visio 2002, the grace period is 10 launches. For Windows, it is 30 days from first boot or upgrade (14 days for beta versions).

What is "reduced functionality mode" in Office XP, the Office XP family products (e.g. Visio 2002, FrontPage 2002), and the Office 2003 System (Office 2003 suites and apps such as Visio 2003, Frontpage 2003, etc)?

Application products will go into reduced functionality mode if the user does not activate before the end of the grace period, which is the 50th launch for Office XP and its component applications and 10th launch for Visio 2002. The Office 2003 System allows 50 launches before the product will go into reduced functionality mode. In this mode, users will not be able to save changes to documents or create new documents, and additional functionality may be reduced. Existing files are not altered and can be edited or saved with an activated installation of Office XP, Visio 2002, or a product from the Office 2003 System. Users may regain full functionality of the product at any time by activating.

How do I know if my product installation is activated?

In all Office XP family products and Office 2003 System products, users can choose Activate Product from the help menu to determine the installation's activation status. In Windows, users can choose Activate Product from the Start menu under Programs, Accessories, System Tools.

How does Product Activation connect over the Internet?

For Office XP family products and Office 2003 System products, activation over the Internet requires users to have their own Internet service provider (ISP) connection. Users who do not have an ISP connection must activate by telephoning a customer service representative. For Windows XP, users who do not have an ISP may make use of Microsoft's ISP network to activate. Users who do not have an ISP and cannot make use of Microsoft's ISP network must activate by telephoning a customer service representative.

What are the hours of operation of the customer service centers?

Most customer service centers are open 24 hours per day. Some international customer service centers are only open during extended business hours.

What if I'm outside the United States and need to activate my installation over the telephone?

Microsoft has regional and, in some locations, local customer service centers to process activation requests. Telephone access numbers to these customer service centers are toll-free where available. Some countries can only be serviced with local toll numbers due to their telephony infrastructure or other issues. For very few countries, users will need to contact Microsoft by calling collect.

Why are the installation and confirmation IDs so long when I activate by telephoning a customer service representative?

Microsoft did usability testing of both numeric and alphanumeric installation and confirmation IDs. Though the IDs could have been made shorter using alphabet characters, Microsoft learned through usability testing that users' interactions with the customer service representatives were substantially more error-free when the IDs were all numeric. There were fewer misunderstandings with numerals than with alphabet characters. Because the conversations were more error-free, the calls were shorter and customer satisfaction with the telephone activation process was improved. In addition, all languages use numerals, whereas not all languages use Latin-based script characters.

Privacy

How does Microsoft Product Activation respect customer privacy?

Microsoft highly values respect for and protection of customers' private information. User privacy was a paramount design goal in building the Product Activation technology. Microsoft Product Activation is completely anonymous, and no personally identifiable information is collected. Activation is different from product registration. If they wish, customers may voluntarily register their product by providing their name and contact information. Registration is for those customers who want to receive future communications on product updates, service releases and other special offers. Any information provided to Microsoft remains secure and private and is used only for the purposes specified by the customer. Further, the hardware hash used during activation is a combination of hash values of various PC components and cannot be used to determine the make or model of the PC, nor can it be backward-calculated to determine the raw PC information.

Is there rechecking of the activation done after initial activation? Is there any secret data transfer to Microsoft?

The product does check itself from time to time to see if it is activated and if it is still on the same PC on which it was originally activated. At no time whatsoever is information transferred to Microsoft as a result of Product Activation except while the user is actually in the process of activating the product. There absolutely is no "secret" data transfer.

If I decide to register my product as well, what happens to the personal data I provide to Microsoft?

Microsoft will store users' personal data in the United States and possibly the country in which they live. Personal information will be protected from unauthorized distribution. Under no circumstances will personal data be sold to third parties. Based on registration, users may receive information on product updates, new products, product offers and other information Microsoft may send from time to time. The Office 2003 System products can only be registered online by clicking on the registration link at the end of the activation process.

Activation and Product Licensing Policies

How many installations can be made with one product license? Has this changed with the introduction of Product Activation?

The underlying principles of Microsoft's software licenses have not changed. Microsoft's End User License Agreements (EULAs) have always stipulated the number of PCs that software can be installed on. Product Activation does not change that. Office XP or Office 2003 may be installed on one PC. The primary user of Office may also install one copy on a laptop computer for their exclusive use. To install Office XP or Office 2003 on more than these two devices, another license of the product must be acquired. Licenses for Office XP or Office 2003 acquired preinstalled on a new PC are single-PC licenses that cannot be transferred or installed a second time on another PC or laptop computer. Windows XP may be installed on one PC. There are no secondary use rights (e.g. no "laptop clause") in the Windows XP EULA. The aforementioned licensing terms have not been changed due to Product Activation. Some special licensing programs (such as the Microsoft Developer Network) provide additional licensing terms. Please check your specific license agreement or EULA for specifics. Re-installation and re-activation on the same PC can be done an unlimited number of times. Pricing and licensing details are available for Windows XP and Office 2003.

Does Microsoft Product Activation allow customers to install products on a laptop as well as on a PC?

Consumers should refer to the terms of the product's End User License Agreement. In some cases, the Microsoft EULA allows customers who are the primary user of Microsoft applications such as Office and Word to install one additional copy on their laptop computer for their exclusive use. This does not apply to product licenses acquired with the purchase of a PC. These OEM licenses are single-use licenses that cannot be transferred to another PC. Windows XP can also only be installed on a single computer. Installation and subsequent activation on a different computer requires a new license.

If a reinstallation of the software is needed, must I purchase a new license?

In general, no. If the same version of the software is reinstalled on the same machine or is not concurrently installed on any other machine, no new license is required. Additional licenses are generally required for installations above and beyond those allowed by the product's EULA.

If a reinstallation of the software is needed, is reactivation required?

Not always. If the same version of the software is reinstalled on the same machine and the hard disk is not reformatted prior to reinstalling, the software will remain activated. Reactivation will be required if the hard disk is reformatted and the software is reinstalled. This is because the software's activation status is stored on the hard drive and reformatting the hard drive erases that status.

What happens when you try to install and activate on more PCs than the end user license agreement (EULA) allows?

Per the EULA, installing on more PCs than the EULA allows would be in violation of the EULA. Technically, product activation does not limit the number of PCs the software can be installed on. It would be possible technically to install the software on, for example, 100 PCs. Activation would fail though on 99 (98 for Office XP or Office 2003) of those 100 PCs thereby limiting the usefulness of the illegal installation. Outside of an activation attempt, Microsoft does not know how many PCs Windows XP, Office XP family product, or Office 2003 System product have been installed on.

Is it possible to transfer a license to another computer?

Consumers should refer to the terms of their license agreement to determine whether or not it is legal to transfer a license to another computer. But in those cases where it is allowed, the product must first be removed from the previous computer. Users may be required to complete the activation on the new computer by placing a call to the Microsoft Activation Center.

I do not want to activate. What can I do to turn this off?

Activation is required for continued use of the product. Businesses and other customers that need to acquire multiple licenses for an organization should contact their software reseller regarding eligibility for purchasing licenses through one of Microsoft's volume licensing programs.

Will Microsoft use activation to force me to upgrade? In other words, will Microsoft ever stop giving out activation codes for any of the products that require activation?

No, Microsoft will not use activation as a tool to force people to upgrade. Activation is merely an anti-piracy tool, nothing else.

Microsoft will also support the activation of Windows XP throughout its life and will likely provide an update that turns activation off at the end of the product's lifecycle so users would no longer be required to activate the product.

If I bought a new PC from an OEM with Windows XP Home Edition pre-activated on it and then upgraded to a retail upgrade of Windows XP Professional, what would happen with the Home Edition's pre-activation?

Since the upgrade to Windows XP Professional is a retail upgrade, it over-rides the OEM's pre-activation of Windows XP Home Edition. You will be required to activate the Windows XP Professional upgrade.

If product IDs are going to be used by Microsoft for activation, how do businesses build images using generic installations scripts and deployment tools? Not every customer is big enough to be a Microsoft Select License customer.

Microsoft's volume licensing agreements are not limited to the Select License program. Microsoft also offers smaller companies the ability to acquire volume licenses at a discount under the Microsoft Open License program. Customers can qualify for Open License by purchasing as few as five product licenses. Almost all but the smallest businesses should be able to qualify for Microsoft Open License. Customers acquiring their licenses through one of Microsoft's volume license programs (e.g., Select, Open, Enterprise, etc.) will not have to activate those licenses. Please see more information about Product Activation and Microsoft volume licensing.

Technical Activation Details

What data is Microsoft gathering as part of activation?

The only information required to activate is an installation ID (and, for Office XP and Office XP family products such as Visio 2002, the name of the country in which the product is being installed). The only purpose of the installation ID is to facilitate activation. It is made up of two components: the product ID generated from the product key and a hardware hash generated from the PC's hardware configuration (for Windows XP SP1 and later only, a third component, the product key itself, was added to deter pirates). Microsoft Product Activation uses a hash algorithm to generate the hardware identifier and does not scan the customer's hard drive, detect any personal information, or determine the make, model or manufacturer of the PC or its components. For example, let's assume that a hash of the PC's color is used as part of the installation ID. The hash could be the high four bits of the color. That color would always produce the same high four bits, but you could not use those high four bits to determine the color. For users who activate over the Internet, the installation ID is sent electronically. For users who activate by telephone, the installation ID is converted to decimal format (versus digital format) and displayed to them in the product's user interface. The telephone installation ID must be read over the telephone to the customer service representative.

What is an installation ID?

The installation ID is the required activation data. The installation ID is a code that is provided to Microsoft as part of activation, either electronically, if activation occurs over the Internet, or verbally to a customer service representative if activation occurs over the telephone. The installation ID is made up of two components: the software's product ID and a hardware hash value. The product ID is unique to that software installation and is generated from the product key used during installation. (For Windows XP SP1 and Office 2003 installations only, the product key is also sent as part of activation in order to deter product key cracks). The hardware hash value is a nonunique representation of the PC on which the software was installed. It is called a hash value because it has no direct correlation to the PC and cannot be backward-calculated to the original value. When displayed to a customer for a telephone activation, the Installation ID is displayed as a 50-digit code (54 digits for Windows XP SP1 and Office 2003 activations).

Do the Installation IDs differ for different PCs?

Yes, the Installation IDs are different when generated from different PCs.

How does Microsoft identify the computer's hardware?

Microsoft Product Activation detects the hardware configuration on which the product is being installed and creates hash values for that configuration. A hash is a value mathematically derived from another value - in this case hardware configuration values. Product Activation does not scan the customer's hard drive, detect any personal information, or determine the make, model or manufacturer of the PC or its components. Microsoft uses hash values out of respect for users' privacy. A hash value cannot be backwards calculated to determine the original value. In addition, Microsoft only uses a portion of the original hash values. Together, these hash values become the complete hardware hash that is included in the installation ID.

Can hardware components be changed and upgraded?

Product Activation is able to tolerate a certain degree of change in a hardware configuration by allowing a current hash value to have a degree of difference from the hash value that was originally activated. As a result, users can change their hardware without the product believing it is on a different PC than the one it was activated on. If the user completely overhauls the hardware making substantial hardware changes (even over long periods of time), reactivation may be required. In that case, users may need to contact to contact a Microsoft customer service representative by telephone to reactivate.

How does product activation determine tolerance? In other words, how many components of the PC must change before I am required to reactivate?

Common changes to hardware such as upgrading a video card, adding a second hard disk drive, adding RAM or upgrading a CD-ROM device will not require the system to be reactivated.

Specifically, product activation determines tolerance through a voting mechanism. There are 10 hardware characteristics used in creating the hardware hash. Each characteristic is worth one vote, except the network card which is worth three votes. When thinking of tolerance, it's easiest to think about what has not changed instead of what has changed. When the current hardware hash is compared to the original hardware hash, there must be 7 or more matching points for the two hardware hashes to be considered in tolerance. If the network card is the same, then only 4 additional characteristics must match (because the network card is worth 3, for a total of 7). If the network card is not the same, then a total of 7 characteristics other than the network card must be the same. If the device is a laptop (specifically a dockable device), additional tolerance is allotted and there need be only 4 or more matching points. Therefore, if the device is dockable and the network card is the same, only one other characteristic must be the same for a total vote of 4. If the device is dockable and the network card is not the same, then a total of 4 characteristics other than the network card must be the same.

Are the changes cumulative? In other words, if I change one component today and one tomorrow, is that two component changes?

The changes are cumulative; however, if a user is asked to reactivate, the hardware profile is reset to that new configuration.

What are the 10 hardware characteristics used to determine the hardware hash?

The 10 hardware characteristics used to determine the hardware hash are: Display Adapter, SCSI Adapter, IDE Adapter, Network Adapter MAC Address, RAM Amount Range (i.e. 0-64mb, 64-128mb, etc), Processor Type, Processor Serial Number, Hard Drive Device, Hard Drive Volume Serial Number, CD-ROM/CD-RW/DVD-ROM.

Does product activation deter hard disk cloning by comparing these hard disk hashes?

One of the forms of piracy that Product Activation guards against is hard disk cloning. Not all forms of hard disk cloning are illegal. However, by comparing the hardware hash originally activated to the current hardware hash, hard disk cloning can be deterred by requiring re-activation if the hardware hashes are substantially different.

If I reformat my hard disk, is reactivation required?

If the hard disk is reformatted and the software is reinstalled, reactivation will be required. The same grace periods for activation apply in this situation. Reactivation on the same PC can be completed as many times as required. The activation can be completed via telephone or Internet.

Are cookies placed on my computer when I activate?

No. Product Activation does not place any cookies on the PC as part of activation.

Hackers and pirates will just crack this like they did earlier copy-protection attempts? Will this really help stop piracy?

Product Activation is not a single "silver bullet" solution to global piracy. It is, however, significantly more sophisticated than past methods and is not easy for would-be pirates to circumvent. At the same time, it is a simple and unobtrusive process for legal customers. It will help deter casual copying of software, which is by far the single most prevalent type of software piracy. It will also help deter some hard disk cloning and counterfeiting. It is not designed to target sophisticated and organized criminal counterfeiters.

Product Activation has been cracked before and it will be cracked again. What's the use?

Product activation was and will continue to be significantly harder to crack than most people think. That said, the intellectual property protection arena is a cat-and-mouse game. All IP protection technologies will be cracked at some point; it is just a matter of time. The measure of success is not completely stopping software piracy. Completely stopping piracy is not an attainable goal. Success is more likely measured in increased awareness of the terms of the license agreement and increased license compliance.

Changes to Product Activation in Windows XP Service Pack 1

What changes have been made to product activation in SP1? How will these changes impact customers?

Microsoft will introduce additional technological measures in Service Pack 1 for Windows XP aimed at ensuring legally licensed customers receive the full benefits of owning their valid license. These changes include denying access to the Windows XP SP1 updates for PCs with known pirated installations, product key validation during activation, and the repair of cracks to activation. Additional features have been added to provide a better customer experience including an additional three-day grace period to re-activate after significant hardware changes and the ability for volume license customers to encrypt their volume license product key in unattended installations.

Licensed customers are not impacted by any of these changes.

Will these changes also occur in a service release or update for Office XP?

No, these changes are specific to Windows XP.

Does installing Windows XP Service Pack 1 affect my activation state? Will I be required to reactivate after I install SP1?

No, installing Windows XP Service Pack 1 does not affect the activation state of Windows XP. If Windows XP needed to be activated before applying SP1, it will still need to activated after applying SP1. In this situation, you will find that your activation grace period will also be extended to 30 days (60 days if you install from MSDN). If Windows XP was already activated before applying SP1, it will still be activated after applying SP1.

What happens to a customer who tries to install SP1 onto a Windows XP install made with one of these pirated keys? Are there any exceptions to this?

They will be unable to install the update until they have acquired genuine software and installed that software with a valid product key. Nothing will happen to their underlying Windows XP installation. Access to upgrades and service releases is a benefit that Microsoft offers to those who have acquired and use genuine Microsoft products only. There are no exceptions to this.

What should a customer do if they find they unwittingly acquired a pirated copy of Windows XP? How can a customer acquire a legitimate license for Windows XP if they find that theirs is pirated?

The customer should go back to the point of purchase and demand a refund or a genuine copy of Windows XP. Customers can also contact Microsoft directly at http://www.microsoft.com/piracy/reporting/default.asp and report the piracy.

Customers can acquire a legitimate copy of Windows XP from a trusted retailer or PC manufacturer.

What are the product keys that are affected by this?

We are not publishing the product keys themselves, however the product IDs generated from these product keys are (where X may be any numeric value):

  • XXXXX-640-0000356-23XXX
  • XXXXX-640-2001765-23XXX

The product ID can be found by right clicking on My Computer and choosing Properties and viewing the General tab.

What about the Windows Update check of the product key? And also during activation the product key is now provided? How does Microsoft know whether a customer is using pirated or genuine product key in these instances? And what about privacy in these matters, as the check is occurring on the Microsoft end?

For Windows Update, the product key and product ID are verified by Windows Update. There is no link to the activation system. Once the product key and product ID are validated, they are discarded; neither the key nor the ID are maintained after the validation check.

For activation after SP1 has been installed, Microsoft uses the product key as part of the Installation ID to determine if it is legitimate. If it is not legitimate, the activation request is denied. In this case, the product key (along with the entire installation ID) is kept as part of the error record. Remember that no personally identifiable information is required to activate.

How does this additional grace period work?

Microsoft implemented the additional grace period to provide a time period for customers to activate if they were required to because of a hardware change. Previously, a significant hardware change would require an immediate reactivation. With SP1, a significant hardware change will require reactivation within 3 days.

How does the volume license key (VLK) encryption feature work?

This encryption feature allows the system administrator to time-limit and hide from plain text the VLK used for unattended installations of Windows XP. See our volume license key web site for details.

When I attempted to activate a Windows XP SP1 installation with a product key that had been used on another PC I got an error message asking me if I wanted to buy an additional Windows XP license. Is this new?

Yes, beginning with Windows XP SP1 Microsoft is offering the ability for user's in certain geographies to purchase an additional Windows XP license at a discount for a second PC. If the Windows XP software was completely removed from the previous PC before being installed on the subsequent PC, no additional license is required.

Why is this additional license purchase feature available in only certain countries?

Due to logistical issues, Microsoft is only able to sell these additional licenses in a few countries. More countries may be added in the future.

Where can I get more details on these changes introduced in Windows XP SP1?

For more information, please see the Windows XP SP1 Product Activation changes details page.

Microsoft, Visio and Windows are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.


© 2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Terms of Use |Trademarks |Privacy Statement