Windows Product Activation (WPA) is technologies and programs Microsoft developed to protect its intellectual property. Microsoft claims WPA helps protect customers from the risks and the hidden costs of running counterfeit software, while probably in actual it brings inconvenient to genuine buyer. Anyway, all editions and distributions of Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 must be activated within 30 days of installation, including users using volume license product key for continued access to full Windows functionality.

Previously, Microsoft doesn’t advertise and explain much about Product Activation in Windows to their customers. Most Windows users, either individual personal users or corporation company users only know that they need to activate Windows operating system installed. And they’re lucky if the computer purchased already pre-activated and don’t really much think about it. Surprisingly Microsoft released a Technical Market Bulletin that describes the technologies used for product activation and how activation works as applied to versions of Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 acquired through retail ‘boxed’ product, original equipment manufacturer or PC manufacturer, or volume license channels such as Microsoft Open, Enterprise, or Select licensing.

In the article, Microsoft explains about how the hardware hash component of the installation ID is created, how to re-activate windows which deactivated due to a substantial hardware modification, Volume Activation 2.0 using Multiple Activation Key (MAK) and Key Management Service (KMS) key against KMS server, pre-activation of pre-loaded Windows as in OEM Activation (OA) 2.0, online activation, phone activation using Installation ID, what information is collected during online activation and etc.

A few interesting notes are as follow:

  • If you bought PC from OEMs and it’s pre-activated in the factory using the OA 2.0 method, you can swap and change virtually all the hardware components in the computer, including GPU graphic card, hard disk, CPU, RAM, and motherboard, and the system will stay activated as long as the BIOS (of old or new motherboard) is from OEM with proper information and is genuine.
  • Changing a single component multiple times (e.g. from video adapter A to video adapter B to video adapter C) is treated as a single change.
  • No re-activation required if users add in previously non-existing components during original activation to a PC, such as adding a second hard drive.
  • Modification of a component not used to calculate the hardware hash value will be trigger re-activation.
  • Retail product key can be used to activate Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 online for a maximum of 5 times.

Download the Technical Market Bulletin named Product Activation for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008.doc from Microsoft.