Clearing up the confusion on Vista licensing, key management

Jonathan Hassell clears the air on Microsoft licensing agreements and key management

Since Windows Vista has been released to the public, there has been a lot of confusion and hype surrounding some of the licensing decisions and restrictions with which Microsoft saddled the operating system and its many versions. Additionally, there's a new type of product key and a volume key management system that you might not know about. In this article, I'll take a look at five distinct points about Vista licensing and key management and give you the most current answers to what I've found are the most common questions about those topics.

There are two types of product keys that are issued for Windows Vista

You're probably familiar with the first type, which is the individual, one-machine license keys that are issued with new computers, retail copies of Windows Vista and so on. (There are minor differences in those keys, such as the OEM-type keys that don't technically require user-initiated activation, but that's outside the scope of this article).

The second type of keys is meant to unlock software licensed under corporate agreements. Unlike Volume Activation 1.0, which produced keys that bypassed product activation, Volume Activation 2.0 still gives keys for bulk-licensed copies, but it doesn't disable activation. Instead, these keys have multiple allowed activations associated with them -- hence their name, multiple activation keys, or MAKs. According to Microsoft, "Computers can be activated on an individual basis or by a central computer [see the next point] which can activate multiple computers at a time."

You can manage activations and product keys over the network

There is software, called the Key Management Service (KMS), that can run on Windows Server 2003 machines with Service Pack 1 or later. Machines running KMS can handle activations of internal machines that run Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Enterprise without having to route requests to activate each of those computers to Microsoft's public activation service.

While this might seem like a great loophole to get around activation, it's not quite set-and-forget. Copies of the operating system activated through a company's KMS will be required to reactivate by connecting to a machine running KMS at least once every 180 days. Additionally, you must have 25 or more Windows Vista machines on the same network for KMS to function. The machine running KMS will, of course, need to activate itself using a KMS-specific key, which, once validated, authorizes that machine to activate its subordinates. (Note that KMS will be a supported service on Windows Server 2008.)

There are five license "states" in any installation of Windows Vista

They are as follows:

  • Licensed. This state refers to an activated genuine copy of Windows Vista.
  • Initial grace, or out-of-the-box grace. This is the period before the initial activation of a machine and lasts 30 days at first. You can restart this by issuing the command slmgr.vbs /rearm; this resets the counter to 30 days, but you can only re-arm this timer three times before activation becomes required.
  • Nongenuine grace. This state is used when the Windows Genuine Advantage tool is installed and run on a machine and it fails the test. This grace period lasts 30 days.
  • Out-of-tolerance grace. This state occurs when hardware changes exceed the activation threshold or if a KMS-managed computer has not reactivated itself via the KMS host in more than 180 days. This grace period lasts 30 days.
  • Unlicensed. This is the state Windows Vista enters when any grace period ends. When a machine enters the unlicensed state, it runs in reduced functionality mode, or RFM, which limits users to one-hour sessions and disables some features and functions of Vista.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jonathan Hassell

Computerworld
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?