Volume Activation 2.0 Overview Guide
Windows Vista® and Windows Server® 2008
Published: March, 2008
Volume activation is designed to automate and manage the activation process for volume licensing customers. This document is intended for IT implementers and decision makers who need an introduction to product activation, volume licensing, and Volume Activation 2.0.
Table of Contents
Why Is Activation Necessary?
Does Activation Protect Privacy?
Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)
Volume Activation 2.0 Models
Key Management Service (KMS)
Multiple Activation Key (MAK)
What If Systems Are Not Activated?
Grace Period Expiration
Product activation is the process of validating software with the manufacturer. Activation confirms the genuine status of a product and that the product key is not compromised. It is analogous to the activation of credit cards or new mobile phones. Activation establishes a relationship between the software’s product key and a particular installation of that software on a device.
Previously, activation for Microsoft® Windows® was required only for Microsoft software purchased from retail stores and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Operating system licenses purchased through volume licensing programs did not require activation. Additionally, available activation methods made it difficult to control product keys that came with volume editions of Microsoft software. Because of this, product keys for volume editions of Windows XP and Microsoft Windows Server® 2003 were easily compromised and became the primary source of pirated software. In fact, over 80% of Windows XP piracy is due to the accidental leaking of product keys issued to volume customers. To address this issue, Microsoft introduced a new activation policy for Windows Vista® and Windows Server 2008®.
Microsoft's policy requires the activation of all editions of Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 operating systems, including those obtained through a volume licensing program. This requirement applies to Windows running on both physical computers and virtual machines. Volume Activation 2.0 (VA 2.0) is a new set of tools that helps customers with this new requirement. It automates the process of activation on computers running volume editions of Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008.
Note: Volume Activation 2.0 is part of the Microsoft Software Protection Platform (SPP). SPP is designed to help fight piracy, protect consumers from the risks of counterfeit software, and better enable volume license customers to manage their software assets. For more information about SPP go to http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=107548.
Counterfeiting is a significant problem for the software industry. According to a recent study by the Business Software Alliance, 35% of all PC software installed worldwide during 2006 was obtained illegally. While the financial impacts are serious to the software manufacturers and vendors, the impact of counterfeit software goes beyond revenue loss to software manufacturers. Many consumers who end up with a counterfeit copy of Microsoft software are unwitting victims of a crime. Additionally, counterfeit software is increasingly becoming a vehicle for the distribution of viruses and malware that can target unsuspecting users, potentially exposing them to corruption or loss of personal or business data and identity theft.
Note: For more information about the Business Software Alliance study, go to http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=110330.
All methods of activation used by Microsoft are designed to help protect user privacy. Data that is sent during activation is not traceable back to the computer or user. The data that is gathered is used to confirm that you have a legally licensed copy of the software. It is then aggregated for statistical analysis. Microsoft does not use this information to identify you or contact you. For example, during online activations, information such as the software version, language, and product key are sent, as well as the IP address and information about the hardware of the device. The IP address is used only to verify the location of the request. This is because some editions of Windows, such as Windows Vista Starter Edition, can only be activated within certain target market geographies.
You can obtain licenses for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 through one of three basic channels: OEM, retail, or volume licensing. Each channel has its own unique methods of activation. Since organizations can obtain their operating systems through any of the three available channels, they can choose a combination of activation methods.
Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 products acquired through a retail store are individually licensed and are activated in the same way as retail versions of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Each purchased copy comes with one unique product key, found on the product packaging, which is typed in during the installation of the product. This product key is used by the system to complete the activation after the installation of the operating system is complete. This activation can be accomplished either online or by telephone.
Most OEMs sell systems that include a standard build of Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008. System vendors perform OEM activation by associating Windows to the firmware (BOIS) of the physical system. This occurs before the systems are sent to the customer, so that no additional actions are required of the end user. This method of activation is known as OEM Activation 2.0.
OEM Activation 2.0 is valid as long as the customer uses the OEM-provided image on a system. If you want to create a customized image, you can use the image provided by your OEM as the basis for creating your own custom image. Otherwise, you will need to use a different activation method.
Note: Some editions of Windows, such as Windows Vista Enterprise, are available only through the volume licensing channel. OEM activation is applicable to systems purchased through OEM channels with Windows installed.
Microsoft volume licensing offers customized programs tailored to the size and purchasing preference of your company. These programs provide simple, flexible, and affordable solutions that enable you to easily manage your licenses. To become a volume customer, you need to set up a volume license agreement with Microsoft. There are only two legal ways to acquire a full Windows desktop license for a new computer system. The first and most economical way is preinstalled through the computer system manufacturer. The other option is via full packaged retail product. Microsoft Volume Licensing programs such as Open License, Select License, and Enterprise Agreements cover Windows upgrades only and do not provide a full Windows desktop license. After the computer systems have a full Windows desktop license, a Windows Volume Licensing agreement can be acquired and used to provide version upgrade rights. For more information on Volume Licensing, go to http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=73076.
VA 2.0 is designed to allow volume license customers to automate the activation process in a way that is transparent to end users. VA 2.0 applies to systems that are covered under a Volume Licensing program. It is used strictly as a tool for activation and is in no way tied to license invoicing or billing. VA 2.0 provides two different models for completing volume activations. The first model is Key Management Service (KMS) and the second is Multiple Activation Key (MAK). KMS allows organizations to activate systems within their own network, while MAK activates systems on a one-time basis, using Microsoft’s hosted activation services. Customers can use either or both key types to activate systems in their environment.
With KMS, you can complete activations on your local network, eliminating the need for individual computers to connect to Microsoft for product activation. KMS is a lightweight service that does not require a dedicated system and can easily be co-hosted on a system that provides other services. By default, volume editions of Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 connect to a system that hosts the KMS service to request activation. No action is required of the end user.
KMS requires a minimum number of physical computers in a network environment. You must have at least five (5) physical computers to activate Windows Server 2008 and at least twenty-five (25) physical computers to activate Windows Vista clients. These minimums, called activation thresholds, are set so that they are easily met by enterprise customers. For more information about activation thresholds, see the Volume Activation 2.0 Planning Guide.
To use KMS activation with Windows Vista Volume Licensing editions, new computers must be preinstalled by an OEM with a qualifying operating system and contain a Windows marker in the BIOS.
MAK is used for a one-time activation with Microsoft’s hosted activation services. There are two ways to activate computers using MAK. The first method is MAK Independent activation, which requires that each computer independently connect and activate with Microsoft, either over the Internet or by telephone. The second method is MAK Proxy activation. With this method, a computer acting as a MAK proxy gathers activation information from multiple computers on the network and then sends a centralized activation request on their behalf. MAK Proxy Activation is configured using the Volume Activation Management Tool (VAMT).
Activation is designed to provide a transparent activation experience for users. If activation does not occur immediately after the operating system is installed, Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 still provide the full functionality of the operating system for a limited amount of time, or grace period. The length of a grace period varies from thirty days, for Windows Vista, to sixty days, for Windows Server 2008. After the grace period expires, the initial release of Windows Vista transitions to reduced functionality mode (RFM), but Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) and Windows Server 2008, after the initial grace period expires, do not go into RFM. If not activated, these products continue to remind the user to activate through notifications. For more information about RFM, see the Volume Activation 2.0 Planning Guide.
During the initial grace period, there are periodic notifications that the system needs activation. Systems in this grace period have a set period of time to activate the operating system. Once a day, during the logon process, a notification bubble reminds the user to activate the operating system. For both 60-day and 30-day grace periods, this behavior continues until there are three days left in the grace period. For the first two of the final three days of the grace period, the notification bubble appears every four hours. During the final day of the grace period the notification bubble appears every hour, on the hour. This notification process is illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Figure 1 Notification timeline for initial 30-day grace period
After the initial grace period expires or activation fails, Windows Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008 continue to notify the user that the operating system needs activation. During this time, until the operating system is activated, a notification reminder bubble appears on the desktop. When the notification bubble appears, the desktop background changes to black. During this period, genuine-only features such as Aero®, Windows Defender, and ReadyBoost™ are still available to users, but optional updates, provided by Windows Update, are not available until the system is activated.
VA 2.0 does not change how volume licensing customers obtain their product keys. You can obtain MAK and KMS keys at the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC) Web page at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=107544 or by calling an Activation Call Center. Service Provider License Agreement (SPLA) partners can only obtain keys by calling an Activation Call Center. Customers in the United States can call 1-888-352-7140. International customers should contact their local support center. For the telephone numbers of activation centers worldwide, go to http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=107418. When you call a support center, have your volume license agreement and proof of purchase information available.
Volume licensing customers can log on to the VLSC Web page at any time to view their KMS key information. The VLSC Web site also contains information on how to request and use MAKs. For more information about MAK and KMS keys, including information about increasing your number of allowed activations, go to http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=74008.
Product activation is the process of validating software with the manufacturer. Microsoft requires activation for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008, regardless of how they are purchased. Previously, Windows licenses obtained through retail and OEM channels required activation. This activation requirement now is also required for volume licensing customers.
VA 2.0 is designed to allow volume licensing customers to automate the activation process so that there is little or no impact on end users. VA 2.0 provides volume customers with two models for activating Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. The KMS model is designed to activate systems by connecting to a locally managed network-based service. The MAK model has systems connect to Microsoft for activation either individually or by using a proxy. VA 2.0 does not change a volume customer’s licensing agreement with Microsoft, nor does it change how they obtain volume product keys. With some planning, it can be integrated it into an organization’s Windows deployment plan.
This guide is intended as an introduction to volume activation for IT implementers and decision makers. It is part of the core set of documentation for VA 2.0. To view or download the complete set of VA 2.0 guides, go to the Volume Activation Technical Guidance Web site at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=75674.
In addition to the core set of documentation for VA 2.0, there are also numerous other resources and tools available to assist you in planning and implementing VA 2.0. For more information, see http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=107415.