Microsoft’s changed the way activation works on Windows 10. While some versions still need a product key, Microsoft also introduced a different method called “digital entitlement”.
It’s also possible to use a limited version of Windows 10 without activating it at all. While the Windows 10 free upgrade offer expired in 2018, a lot of users are still asking how activation works, and whether they need a new product key to use Windows 10.
To help clear some of the confusion, here are the answers to four commonly asked questions about Windows 10 activation and product keys:
Can I Install and Use Windows 10 without Activation?
Microsoft allows absolutely anyone to download and install Windows 10 on their computers for free. Even if you don’t have a product key, you’ll still be able to use an unactivated version of Windows 10, although some features may be limited.
Step 1: Download Windows 10 directly from Microsoft’s website
Step 2: Open the downloaded file and begin the installation
Step 3: During the installation, a window will pop up asking you to enter a product key. Click I don’t have a product key and the installation will continue. If you’re prompted again, just do the same until installation is complete
Inactivated versions of Windows 10 have a watermark in the bottom right saying, “Activate Windows”. You also can’t personalize any colors, themes, backgrounds, etc. Otherwise, it basically works like a normal fully functional copy of Windows 10.
If you ever do want to activate your copy of Windows 10, open Settings from the toolbar at the bottom of your screen. Click Update & Security then Activation and select Go to Store. You can pay for Windows 10 here to unlock your current copy.
Do I need a product Key to Activate Windows 10?
If you buy or upgrade to Windows 10 directly from Microsoft, you won’t need a product key. Instead, when you install Windows 10, it will come with a Digital License. This is called “digital entitlement”.
The installation will then automatically create a special significance for your computer and store it on Microsoft’s servers online. This means if you ever need to reinstall Windows 10 on that same computer, Microsoft will automatically recognize and approve it.
However, if you bought Windows 10 from an authorized reseller, not from Microsoft, then it will still come with a regular Product Key.
Can I Upgrade from Older Versions of Windows Without a Product Key?
When Microsoft released Windows 10 in 2015, it allowed Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users to upgrade for free.
So long as you already have a legitimate copy of an older Windows version installed and activated with its own unique product key on your computer then you could upgrade to a fully activated Windows 10 operating system without a new product key.
Users either received a prompt to upgrade from within their current version of Windows or could download the upgrade from Microsoft directly. Once upgraded, instead of entering a Product Key, Windows 10 automatically comes with a Digital License.
Note: if you need to reboot your computer and haven’t yet upgraded to Windows 10 then you’ll still need to enter the Product Key for your original version of Windows before you can upgrade. If you already upgraded before rebooting, then it should automatically work with the digital license
Technically, this free upgrade offer expired in January 2018, but there are still a few tricks for how to upgrade.
If you don’t have a legitimate copy of Windows 7 or 8.1 however, the upgrade won’t work. You’ll first need to buy and install a new copy with a legitimate product key.
Can I Use the Same Copy of Windows 10 on my Other Computers?
Whether you have a product key or digital license for your copy of Windows 10, you can only install and use it on one computer at a time. If you want to install Windows 10 on other computers, you’ll need to buy a new copy with its own product key for each one.
Businesses that need to use Windows on multiple computers, however, have the option of buying a commercial “Volume License” that will work on more than one device.
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