Windows Product Activation

Applies To: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2

Windows Product Activation

Due to piracy and other forms of unauthorized use, users cannot always be sure that they have a genuine copy of a Windows Server 2003 operating system. The goal of product activation is to reduce a form of piracy known as casual copying or "softlifting". Casual copying is the sharing and installation of software that is not in compliance with the software's end user license agreement, or EULA, and is estimated to contribute to half of all pirated installations. Microsoft developed Product Activation for Windows Server 2003 operating systems to help ensure that each Windows Server 2003 operating system license is installed in compliance with the EULA and is not installed on more than the limited number (usually one) of computers allowed by the product EULA. Please note, however, that volume licensed versions of Windows Server 2003 operating systems do not require activation.

During software installation, the set up wizard prompts you to enter a product key usually located on the back of the Windows Server 2003 operating system CD-ROM folder. The product key is a 25 character alphanumeric code shown in five groups of five characters each (for example, BCDFG-12345-HJKLM-67890-NPQRS). Keep the product key in a safe location and do not share it with others. This product key forms the basis for your ability to install and use Windows.

The product key also forms the basis for the product ID that is created when members of the Windows Server 2003 family are installed. Each licensed instance of Windows Server 2003 operating systems has a unique Product ID. The Product ID has 20 characters arranged like this: XXXXX-XXX-XXXXXXX-XXXXX. It is listed in the properties for My Computer.

For purposes of product activation only, a non-unique hardware hash is also created from general information that is included in the system components. At no time are files on the hard drive scanned, nor is personally-identifiable information of any kind used to create the hardware identifier. None of the information collected during product activation will be used to personally identify you. To ensure your privacy, the hardware identifier is created by what is known as a "one-way hash". To produce a one-way hash, information is processed through an algorithm to create a new alphanumeric string. It is impossible to calculate the original information from the resulting string.

The hardware identifier is used together with the product ID to create a unique installation ID. Whether you choose to activate by using an Internet connection or by speaking with a Microsoft customer service representative, the installation ID is the only piece of information required to activate Windows Server 2003 operating systems.

If you activate via an Internet connection, the installation ID is sent automatically. When you decide to activate over the Internet, the Windows Product Activation Wizard attempts to establish an online connection to Microsoft by way of the Internet. If you do not subscribe to an Internet Service Provider but do have a modem connected to a phone line, the wizard detects the modem and attempts to make a direct connection to Microsoft.

If an online connection cannot be established, you are prompted to contact a customer service representative by telephone. In that message, the installation ID is displayed to you. The customer service representative will ask you to read the installation ID over the telephone. Alternatively, automated telephone response systems will guide you through the activation process.

The installation ID records an association of the product ID to your computer and a confirmation is sent back. The product key can now be used to install Windows on that computer an unlimited number of times. However, if you need to install Windows on a different computer using that product key, you might need to contact a Microsoft customer service representative by telephone.

Until you have activated your copy of your Windows Server 2003 operating system, an Activate icon appears in the Notification Area of the Status Bar of the Desktop. You can click the icon to initiate activation. This icon will not appear in the Notification Area after you have activated the member of the Windows Server 2003 family. Check the Application Event Log to verify activation.

You have normally have a grace period of days--specified in your EULA--in which to activate your Windows Server 2003 operating systems product installation. If the grace period expires and you have not completed activation, you will not be able to complete the login process and Terminal Server sessions will be unavailable. Administrator credentials are required for reactivation. Please note that evaluation CDs and upgrades are not issued an additional grace period. You can logon in Safe Mode to access any available data.


  • To view the EULA, click Start/Run, type "eula.txt".

  • To perform this procedure, you must be a member of the Administrators group on the local computer, or you must have been delegated the appropriate authority. If the computer is joined to a domain, members of the Domain Admins group might be able to perform this procedure. As a security best practice, consider using Run as to perform this procedure.

  • For further information about Windows Product Activation, see How to activate Windows and Windows Product Activation Concepts.

  • Windows Product Activation is not available on the Itanium-based versions of the Windows operating systems.

  • For the most recently updated information regarding Windows Product Activation, see Microsoft Product Activation Privacy Policy at Microsoft Web site.