Very little was coming out of Redmond prior to the launch of Windows 10 on this subject and with licensing already being a challenging subject anyway it led to a lot of speculation.
Microsoft has finally offered details with the publication of a resource called Activation in Windows 10 on Microsoft’s Windows 10 website.
We know that activation is different in Windows 10, specifically around the free upgrade that is being offered to Windows 7 and 8.1 users, and there is now a name for this activation process which does not use a product key – Digital Entitlement.
As the site confirms:
Activation helps verify that your copy of Windows is genuine and hasn’t been used on more devices than the Microsoft Software License Terms allow. Depending on how you got your copy of Windows 10, activation will use either a digital entitlement or a 25-character product key.
Digital Entitlement is a new method of activation in Windows 10 that doesn't require you to enter a product key.
Your Windows 10 system is eligible for activation via Digital Entitlement under the following circumstances:
- Upgraded to Windows 10 on a device running a genuine copy of Windows 7 or 8.1.
- Purchased genuine Windows 10 from the Windows Store and activated it.
- Purchased Windows 10 Pro upgrade from Windows Store and activated it.
- As a Windows insider upgraded to newest Windows 10 Insider Preview on an eligible device that was already running a previous version of Windows and Windows 10 Preview.
Product key activation of Windows 10 falls under these situations:
- Purchased Windows 10 from an authorized retailer.
- Purchased digital copy of Windows 10 from an authorized retailer.
- You have a volume licensing agreement for Windows 10 or an MSDN subscription.
- Purchased a new device running Windows 10
The Activation in Windows 10 site also has 5 additional sections that cover these situations and others in more detail:
- Activating Windows 10 after the free upgrade from Windows 7 or 8.1
- Activating after reinstalling Windows 10
- Activating a new installation of Windows 10
- Activating the latest Windows 10 Insider Preview
- Activating Windows 10 after a hardware configuration change
There are a couple of key areas in those details that I want to highlight for awareness. Some have been previously reported but it will be beneficial to lay them out again.
- In order to successfully activate Windows 10 on any eligible devices you must first upgrade that Windows 7/8.1 system to Windows 10 so that a Digital Entitlement is created for that hardware. Once it is verified as activated you can then do a clean install.
- Windows 10 can’t be activated using a Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 product key.
- Verify your activation status before reinstalling Windows 10 to verify it is shown as activated otherwise you can encounter activation issues following the clean install.
- If a device, such as a home built system, has never had Windows 10 on it then you will need to purchase a Windows 10 product key to activate the OS.
- Installing Windows 10 Insider Preview on a device that has never had an activated copy of Windows 10 on it will require a product key.
- While Microsoft does not provide a detailed list of what hardware has to change on a device to trigger reactivation, they do mention that a hardware change such as replacing the motherboard, might cause Windows 10 to no longer be activated on that hardware. This is the same process that occurred under Windows 7 and 8/8.1. In my own experience a call to the phone activation line got the system reactivated without issue.
Still missing from this new Activation in Windows 10 site are any details about the ability to transfer licenses from one device to another.
For business and enterprise customers that are under licensing agreements with Microsoft – those agreements will provide you your usage rights, transferability and other info.
On the consumer side most licensing falls into two categories – OEM and Retail.
OEM licenses for Windows are tied to hardware such as devices sold by manufacturers like Dell, ASUS, HP, etc. Those licenses are already restricted from being transferred to other devices or hardware. On most newer devices those licenses are embedded in the system BIOS for activation/verification purposes.
Retail licenses on the other hand can be moved from one system to another as long as the OS is not used on the previous device. That restriction exists because a retail license for Windows is only supposed to be active on one system at a time.
When you upgrade to Windows 10 those underlying licenses still exist which means a Windows 10 upgrade over an OEM license remains tied to that hardware while a retail version of Windows 7/8.1 that was upgraded to Windows 10 could still be moved to a new device.
Of course, that will require the reinstall of the original genuine OS, Windows 7 or 8.1, on the new device and then upgrading to Windows 10 so that system registers for Digital Entitlement for activation purposes.
What remains unclear is whether that upgrade to Windows 10 will still be free if that underlying retail license, that was previously upgraded to Windows 10, is moved after the one-year free upgrade period has ended on 29 July 2016.
I have reached out to Microsoft with this last question to see what they have to say. I will update this article once I hear back from them.
So does this new information from Microsoft help to clarify things in your mind relating to Windows 10 upgrades and activations or does it still leave unanswered questions?