Microsoft Licensing is Weird

By Deane Barker on July 12, 2005

One of the things that drives me nuts about Microsoft is the licensing. The other day, I found myself wishing for a book or a class on Microsoft licensing so I could understand it…then I realized how utterly absurd that was. Understanding licensing should not be a core competency of any IT professional.

But, now my point —

Two months ago, one of our desktops died as a result of a brown out (actually it was the result of the power coming back to full strength…then dipping again…then coming back — do this for about five minutes and you have a fried motherboard).

I put another machine in place, then reinstalled the copy of Office XP that came with the originally purchased three years ago. Internet activation failed saying that this copy of Office had already been activiated (true). I was directed to call a phone number. I “spoke” to a VRU system, and read it a 44-digit “Acitivation Code.” This failed too.

I ended up speaking with a Microsoft rep. I read him the first six digits of the Activation Code. He asked me on how many machines I had installed this copy of Office. I explained that we were reinstalling it on a replacement computer. This placated him and he gave me a new Activation Key.

That was two months ago. In the intervening time, we realized the replacement machine was too slow for what this user was doing (working with big, big Microsoft Publisher files), so we replaced it again with a new Dell. And, again, I installed the copy of Office that came with the original machine (the one before the one we were replacing).

As expected, I again failed Internet activation…and I again failed the VRU during phone activiation…and I again found myself talking to a rep (funny, both reps had deep Indian accents…).

I read her the first six digits of the Activation Code, she asked me how many machines I had installed it on, I explained the situation, and — to my surprise — she gave me a new activiation key without further questions. This happened exactly like the last time.

So, I ask you, what is the point of the activiation process? I’ve now installed this copy of Office three different times, on three different computers, with three different Activation Keys. The system initially fails, but I can evidently just call and get a key from Microsoft.

I feel like the guy who bought a lawnmower in the spring, exchanged it for a snowblower in the fall, and then exchanged it for a mower again the next spring. How long could I keep doing this, I wonder? Let me state emphatically that everything I’ve done to this point has been legit…but it very easily couldn’t have been, if I was the least bit dishonest.



  1. So, are you telling that it would be less absurd if you had to buy a new license (=a new copy of Office) every time you replaced your desktop?

  2. So, are you telling that it would be less absurd if you had to buy a new license…every time you replaced your desktop?

    I guess you have a point — Microsoft is handling this to my benefit, and I’m complaining about it. But it just makes me wonder what level of force their activiation process has. None, it seems.

  3. My experience would show that you can do it at least every 60 days for over two years (the frequency with which I reimaged my primary test machine). This was with WindowsXP.

  4. But Brian, why didn’t you image your machine with Office already on it to save yourself activation woes?

    I have it on good authority that the folks at the other end of the Microsoft Activation Hotline are trained to make a note of why you need one and then simply give out a new code.

    I wonder if there is any screening on the answers at all, such that if you said, “No, I’ve installed it on 45 computers,” they wouldn’t give you a new code. They would probably forward you to sales.

  5. I guess the thing is, if you’re honest about it there shouldn’t be any problems. However, if you tried to do a software update on one of the “old” activations, I’ll bet it wouldn’t work.

    Not typically a problem for applications, unless there’s a major bug patch, but for an operating system, like Windows XP that has constant need of security patching, you’d be SOL and/or vulnerable to security risks left unpatched.

  6. Question, in what form did you purchase the copy of office? Was it OEM, DSP or volume license?

    I ask because I am also trying to gain a better understanding of the microsoft licensing system.

    PS. I know this thread is over a month old, please forgive me.

  7. No difference between OEM, DSP licensing, all needs to be sold with a new ?fully assembled computer system? meaning a computer system consisting of at least a central processing unit, a motherboard, a hard drive, a power supply, and a case.

    Yup I feel the same way about Microsoft Licensing. In fact,, I’m struggling to make a living by being honest and keeping to Microsoft’s regulations, while others; well you know what I mean….image.

    Crazy stuff. :)

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