Weekly quickTIP

Picking Proper Product Keys

"Change product key" -- the feature is hiding in plain sight.

I've never claimed to be the most observant guy in the room. My wife is constantly telling me to "Watch out!" when I'm strolling vacantly through a crowded store. She definitely enjoys reminding me three and four times that we've got dinner with the neighbors tonight.

So, during my first attempt at a Vista installation, I didn't tell her about one interesting feature I missed.

If you haven't heard already, Microsoft is strongly tracking Vista installations through the Vista activation service. This has been a boon for company license compliance, but a bit of a pain for installers.

When you install the Vista operating system, you're instructed to enter in a license key. What they don't tell you is that the activation of that license key doesn't happen until after the OS installation completes. If your key has been used too many times, you're stuck with an unactivated OS.

My company has a number of license keys with Microsoft. Some of these keys have only a small number of licenses linked to that key. Finding a key that still had a legal license took me a few reinstallations.

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The feature I missed I didn't find until far later. If you navigate to the System Control Panel and scroll down a little you'll find a new section below Computer name, domain, and workgroup settings. This section, titled Windows activation has a link called Change product key. Clicking this link lets you try a new product key if the first one you use doesn't activate properly.

That should save you a few extra reinstallations. Just please don't tell my wife.

About the Author

Greg Shields is Author Evangelist with PluralSight, and is a globally-recognized expert on systems management, virtualization, and cloud technologies. A multiple-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert, and Citrix CTP awards, Greg is a contributing editor for Redmond Magazine and Virtualization Review Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at IT conferences worldwide. Reach him on Twitter at @concentratedgreg.

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