James O'Neill's Blog

January 19, 2007

Vista activation

Filed under: How to,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 12:21 pm


One of the things I learnt in the run up to last week’s BETT show was about licensing. I often joke that I have a degree in computer science, 40 Microsoft product certifications and 20 years industry experience but that doesn’t fit me out to understand licensing. The thing I learnt is that schools have volume license agreements too. So it wasn’t surprising that some of the questions we got on the stand were about the activation of Vista. People kept asking about some Scottish bloke called “MacKey” or rather MAK keys. And at this point we need to dive into the rabbit warren which is vista activation.

We have more than one kind of volume licence key. We have a “Multiple Activation Key” (MAK) or a “Key management service key”.  The best place to learn about this is the Vista Volume Activation Page. Here is a precis, and let me up front and say that this is a shortcut to understanding the other information which is available: if any errors have crept in please remember this blog is subject to the caveat ‘This posting is provided “AS IS” with no warranties, and confers no rights.’

Vista has different keys for different versions sometimes called SKUs (stop Stock keeping units) , and for different channels of supply. The installation media is the same for Ultimate, or business or home basic, but the keys are different. Business has a different keys depending on whether it is purchased Retail, or pre-installed by an OEM, or as part of a Volume license agreement.

Retail keys can only be used on one computer. Volume keys allow a single key on more than one. All copies of Vista need to be activated.  Depending on how you count the methods there are 3 or 4 ways to activate.

  • Internet activation. This works with both retail and volume versions. If the Internet service thinks that the key has been used the allowed number of times it will fail to activate.
    During this year we plan to introduce a server which goes by the name of “Volume Activation Management Tool (VAMT)”. This tool is not out yet, but it will be Proxy for Internet activation for clients who would not otherwise be given Internet access. (Decide for yourself if this counts as an activation method)
  • Phone activation. Intended for people who can’t connect or don’t believe what we say in our privacy statement about the data used in activation. This is also the route that you use if Vista thinks it has been moved to a new computer and the activation service refuses to re-activate the OS.
  • Key Management service. The easy way to think of this tool is as a block of pre-activated IDs. Every machine using KMS for licensing gets a key for 180 days. It will try to renew at intervals during that time rather than wait till the end. If it can’t get find a server or if the server has run out of IDs then it gets a 30 day grace period before falling into Reduced Functionality Mode.

KMS seems useful for organizations who need to transfer licences to newer machines, and whose users connect to the corporate network at least every 209 days (after 180 + 30 day grace period the machine won’t be usable), it only works when there are more than 25 clients, below that MAK needs to be used.

I’ve summarized the information in a mind map (click for a larger version)

 As I said before the definitive source for this is the Vista Volume Activation Page. This has detail about how keys are obtained, and entered into the installation process, more detail about the choices between MAK and KMS and so on. If you find any differences between that page and this one, it is correct (but please let me know).

Update. Thanks to Mark Parris for pointing out my Typo. a SKU is a Stock keeping unit. Even the most state of the rat spell chequer won’t pick that up.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.


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