Your Windows 10 Activation Questions, Answered

Posted on August 11, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 0 Comments

Your Windows 10 Activation Questions, Answered

Thanks to some internal Microsoft documentation I recently saw, I can now publicly reveal the answers to your burning Windows 10 activation questions. Why Microsoft isn’t more forthcoming with this critical information is unclear. But here it is.

Can I keep activating Windows 10 using a Windows 7/8.x product key?

Only temporarily: The ability to activate Windows 10 with a valid Windows 7 or 8.x product key is indeed temporary and will be shut down at some point in the future. That said, Microsoft won’t confirm the date.

As you may recall, Microsoft has allowed customers to use to use valid Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1 product keys to activate Windows 10 since last October. But with the free Windows 10 upgrade offer coming to a close, I noted in Get Windows 10? Now What? a few weeks ago that I expected this capability to end.

However, testing this extensively last week, I discovered that Microsoft was still allowing its customers to use valid Windows 7 and 8.x product keys to activate Windows 10. But as it turns out, my suspicion at the time, that this was just temporary and could be shut off at any time, was correct.

“Windows 7 and 8 product keys may continue to work for activating Windows 10 for a limited period of time after the free offer ends,” the documentation notes. “We know that for a short period that some users might have missed out or not gotten Setup done or needed to do a clean install after setup didn’t work. So for a short time we will make sure users can recovery as we bring the [free Windows 10 Upgrade] promotion to a close.”

What if my hardware changes? Will I be able to reactivate Windows 10?

This is a common question that dates back to the first days of product activation: How much of your PC’s hardware can you replace before product activation pops up and requires you to reactivate? And when that happens, will you be able to reactivate? What happens if it doesn’t work.

This is especially problematic with Windows 10, because many people accepted the free upgrade. Will they “lose” that free upgrade because of a motherboard swap or other major change?

“If you make a substantial change to system like the motherboard, then a previously activated system will become non-activated,” Microsoft explains, and as one should expect. “Windows 10 now has a troubleshooter that can solve some of these, otherwise they should contact MS, tell us they changed their own hardware and we can help them get activated.”

So the same advice still applies: You’ll need to do a phone activation, as always.

But here’s an interesting bit of additional info: The hard drive no longer factors in activation.

“For Windows 10, we have factored out the hard drive in regard to licensing,” the documentation claims. “So you can replace it, re-install, click skip entering a product key on Media creation tool and the system will pull down a digital license that matches the motherboard.”

Can I transfer a Windows 10 activation to another Microsoft account/person?

One of the weird wrinkles with Windows 10 activation is that Microsoft added a “digital entitlement” option over the past several months that lets you tie a successful Windows 10 activation to your Microsoft account. The point of this change was to help those people who had successfully upgraded to Windows 10 and then decided to reset the PC back to a clean install of Windows 10; in some cases, the cloud-based activation check would fail, leaving them with a copy of Windows 10 that would not activate.

“The digital License is tied to the Hardware ID, but to allow an exception after a motherboard change, we can use the Microsoft Account as a validation that you were the owner,” the documentation states. “We don’t want people using this to move their license around. At the end of the day, the OEM license is still tied to a piece of hardware just like the 5×5 key was.”

OK, fine. But is this digital entitlement transferable? Can you move it to a different Microsoft account or sell/give it away to a different person?

No, Microsoft says.

“You cannot transfer a digital license to another MS Account,” the Microsoft documentation explains. “[The digital license] is designed to re-activate after a major hardware change and not transfer to another PC. A user might figure out how to abuse it, but we also watch for bad behavior and can flag a user who is doing stuff that does not look right.”

But the Microsoft account thing means I “own” that copy of Windows 10, right?

No. And if you listen to Windows Weekly, you know I’ve been harping on this for a long time: The free Windows 10 upgrade offer was about tying a valid Windows 10 license and activation to a specific PC, not about tying that to you, the user. When Microsoft introduced the ability to save this information to users’ Microsoft accounts, I was confused because this change seemed to blur the lines between activation (which is PC-based) and “ownership” (i.e. that users perceived they owned this “thing”, which I felt they did not). As it turns out, I got this one right.

“Think of the Microsoft Account as a way to validate [that] a user can re-activate rather than thinking the license is tied to their Microsoft Account,” the documentation explains. “Reactivation as part of the Troubleshooter is designed to help users who change the motherboard themselves … This is about helping those users who like to upgrade their hardware.”

If the PC passes to another user, this new user can still register this system with his/her own Microsoft account, the documentation notes.

Can I activate my free Windows 10 upgrade after the July 29 cut-off date?

Yep. Assuming you downloaded the Anniversary Update download before August 1, you can start and finish Setup, and activate successfully, at any time in the future.

“If the download finishes and they are in the install phase, the install will finish and they will in fact be activated and be just fine,” the documentation notes. “The deadline cuts off the download only.”

I’d like to upgrade from Windows 10 Home to Windows 10 Pro. How does that work?

No changes here: You can upgrade directly from Windows Store.

“Edition Upgrade via the Store is the only way to upgrade Edition through a purchase. It is a full License purchase of $119.99.”

Note: I may have more on this topic soon. There’s a lot of stuff to read through.