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Clearing Up Some Windows 8 Activation Confusion

With the release of Windows 8 to MSDN and TechNet subscribers worldwide, we're starting to see more and more people setting up their first machines using the final OS code -- and starting to see more questions about some specifics. Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn't been providing much in the way of answers at this point. For example, my colleague, Jason Helmick, contacted me after testing some of the Windows Activation features in Windows 8. I'm providing his narrative below, enhanced with some of my own discoveries and comments in [square brackets]. I'd love to hear your comments and findings, too -- please drop them into the comments area below. With that said, take it away Jason...

Q: I'm confused about the Windows 8 Enterprise/ Pro Activation.
A:
The three download versions of Windows 8 can be somewhat confusing at first, until you realize the purpose for each one. Lack of documentation in this initial stage of release has had more than one person download all three just to see which one they can license.

In my case (TechNet key in hand) I ended up downloading all three to see which one would take the key. The answer is the standard download (not Pro or Enterprise) but after working with the Enterprise and Pro versions I ran into the new activation process and had some questions. Without having any documentation to explain the new activation process I did an initial test. I'm left with more questions than answers.

The Pro and Enterprise downloads are designed to receive their activation through a traditional KMS server or the new Active Directory Based activation (ADBA). The Enterprise version of Windows 8 still supports Multiple Activation Keys (MAK) if that's your preference.

[I'll note here that I was able to help Jason find the right download and confirm his observations. The TechNet "Windows 8 Professional VL" ISO image requires a volume license key and Active Directory, or KMS-based activation; the "Enterprise" ISO also requires on-network activation or a Multiple Activation Key, or MAK. The "plain" Windows 8 ISO will accept a Professional key and activate as Windows 8 Professional.]

So, without a KMS server or MAK available, I decided to test Windows 8 Enterprise to see if there had been changes to the activation process, and to test the time it took the OS to expire when not activated. I'm not a hacker, and I'm not trying to pirate software; I'm just trying to understand from an administrative deployment perspective what is going to happen if activation fails.  Documentation for this seems elusive at best (or doesn't exist). Here are the questions that I had when starting my experiment:

  1. How long does it take before the desktop activation message appears?
  2. How many rearms can I perform?
  3. How long does it take between rearms until the next activation message?

Perfectly legitimate questions if you're deploying Windows 8. After all, we need to know what happens when things go wrong. What symptoms indicate an un-activated copy of Windows? What will users be telling the help desk they're seeing? What can we expect? Crucial concerns, and I was concerned about the differences between Windows 8 and Windows 7. Hopefully, I thought, they'd be identical.

However, the answers I started seeing my experiment weren't what I expected. Perhaps some documentation or feedback could help understand what's happening. Here are the results from my initial experiment. (I'll try more testing soon):

Action

Result

Lingering Question

Changed the clock forward one year (Windows and BIOS) to force activation message.

It did not attempt to activate nor did it display a desktop message.

So, how are they determining when it's time to activate?

I forced activation with the set-forward clock.

Activation failed looking for KMS and again, no activation message.

 

Reset clock

n/a

n/a

Checked SLMGR/ dlv for information about activation period (time till activation)

No time period listed, but was shocked to see 1000 rearms available.

1000 rearms? I can rearm this product 1000 times? This seems like a lot.

Tried a rearm – SLMGR /rearm

999 rearms left

I wonder if I can script this to decrement the counter to 0?

I tried to script the rearm

Must reboot after each rearm so I need to make a better script

n/a

I decided to leave the box alone to see when it would display the desktop activation required message. The current time was 8:30am

The activation required message appeared almost exactly 24 hrs later.

Ok, so the first activation message occurred in 24 hrs. I have a 999 rearms – Microsoft could not possibly want me to have 999 days without licensing the product. Could they? That's almost 3 years!

Performed rearm and waited for next Activation message

n/a

n/a

In the interim I parsed the logs for activation.

While you can see events for the activation process, I was unable to find an event logged when the desktop message "Activation Required" occurred.

Why isn't this logged? Such an event could be useful for monitoring computers for this problem.

Activation required appeared on the desktop approximately 8 hours after I rearmed

n/a

This makes sense. The activation time is getting shorter, forcing a rearm sooner. That explains the high rearm count as it will get quickly used if the time continues to shorten.

Rearmed the system

Activation required appeared on the desktop approximately 4 hours after rearm

Again, it seems that the time windows is closing.

Rearmed the system

Activations required appeared on the desktop approximately 2 hours after rearm

The time window is definitely getting shorter.

 

At this point I had to stop the initial test. I may have made errors in this test and I want to examine it further. However, it would be nice if Microsoft would explain it so I didn't have to perform new tests.

Here's the question that is bothering me the most, and what I'm going to script and test for next week: After all the rearms, will Enterprise stop working?

In all previous tests Windows 8 continued to work normally without removing functionality (at least as I could determine). I could join it to a domain, remove it from a domain, etc.

So, what happens when you reach the end?

[Thanks, Jason.

This definitely seems to be a new twist on the old activation strategies used by Microsoft. Granted, the Enterprise edition is meant for… well, enterprise use, so it's nice to see generous terms and a shrinking activation window. It would still be nice to know how small that window can actually get (if it continues to divide by half, it's be down to nanoseconds pretty rapidly), and what happens if you reach the end.]

 

 

Posted by Don Jones on 10/24/2012 at 1:14 PM


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Reader Comments:

Sat, Feb 16, 2013 Patric Digestive Health and Nausea

Maybe I am missing something here but I just did the following: slui.exe 3 The entered they key from MSDN

Sat, Feb 2, 2013 Palkav Digestive Health and Nausea

Maybe I am missing something here but I just did the following: slui.exe 3 The entered they key from MSDN

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Sun, Nov 11, 2012 Xander West Virginia

I thought winME was the buggiest windows ever but no. win8 is worse. I'm keeping ME on my laptop & 7 on my desktop.

Fri, Nov 9, 2012

type slui 3 in search icon, copy paste your windows 8 keys and apply. It smoothly activated Windows 8 Enterprise.

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 Gautham India

Now I have purchased windows 8 pro key via W8upgrade assistant(in my laptop running win 7 ultimate)...My internet speed is not sufficient to download the W8 installation package... my friend has W8 ISO image in thumbdrive...So I'm gonna get that copy from him and use the key I purchased...So this is not a fresh install...right?!
Bcos W8upgrade.asst has detected the previous OS,while buying key...?!
And how to check W8 is both activated and validated?? Suppose if i need to format and re-install,can I directly boot from Thumbdrive (W8 ISO) or install the W7 ultimate,get it activated and then W8? (Bcos the key is for upgrading)
Pls help...pls!!

Sun, Nov 4, 2012

I found Its all trial and error.

Sun, Nov 4, 2012 Jimsrply

Not exactly. I get 1066,1003,902,16384,903. Just done Win8 Pro upgrade using the DVD, the process allows you to do clean setup without actually having previous version already loaded i'e xp, vista or win7. I do have Genuine Vista package which has not been used. Cut story short loaded Win8 with its key, system asked for new key, presumeably because it didn't find previous software already loaded. Found suggestion on web on how to activate by some one who used the same procedure I had used. Seems to have worked, Win8 shows Activated but doesn't show the Genuine icon at bottom of page, which I have on my Win7 setup. Started to look through events log and found reference to ....re-start 2112(year) Reason: RulesEngine. I'm looking to confirm that its definitely validated before loading my applications. Not looking forward to loading Vista on my SSD drve!

Sat, Nov 3, 2012

Is this what you meant? http://www.networksteve.com/forum/topic.php/The_SPP_Notification_Service_and_frequent_events/?TopicId=3221&Posts=3 You are getting following event id 16384 - "Successfully scheduled Software Protection service for re-start at %1. Reason: %2." Are you also seeing following events: 903 - "The Software Protection service has stopped.%n" 900 - "The Software Protection service is starting.%n" 1066 - "Initialization status for service objects.%n%1" 1033 - "These policies are being excluded since they are only defined with override-only attribute.%nPolicy Names=%1%nApp Id=%2%nSku Id=%3" These are events associated with SPPSVC service startup and shutdown. The service is designed to shut down when nobody is using it. An application may call SL API, which will cause the service to wake up. Here is some additional information that may help to investigate anomalies in SPPSVC wakeup-shutdown pattern (notice that starting up because some other app calls SL API is not an anomaly ): First of all, before the service shuts down, it updates a Windows Task Scheduler task under Microsoft/Windows/SoftwareProtectionPlatform. This task is scheduled to wake up SPPSVC approximately minutes after a successful SPPSVC renewal (typically seven days later). You may want to look at this entry to verify that the next wake up time is consistent with your KMS renewal interval. Pay attention to the “Next Run Time” and “Last Run Time” fields. (This task schedule entry is hidden, so you need to enable viewing hidden tasks from the View menu in the Task Scheduler). Secondly, another potential reason for SPPSVC to keep waking up is another service: SPPUINOTIFY. This normally (when the system is in the licensed state) should run during KMS renewal and should shut itself down after the renewal has succeeded. If both of the above are right (that is the task scheduler task is scheduled outside of 2 hours and sppuinotify service is stopped), then there can be only an external reason for SPPSVC to wake up.

Sat, Nov 3, 2012 jimsrply

In the application log event 16384 :- "Successfully scheduled Software Protection service for re-start at (what date do you have here) Reason: RulesEngine" Can you explain what the protection service does ? Because my DATE = 2112 ? on Windows 8 Pro upgrade

Sat, Nov 3, 2012 Jim

BTW windows 8 pro is good...Just a lot of looking into and its hard to grasp the new basic settings on this version platform windows 8 has to offer.

Sat, Nov 3, 2012 Jim

I am a lilttle upset with windows security about this matter with activating your pc. I have bought my computer in a store with a legit copy and when i updated my computer through the windows update it makes microsoft take my copy of the legit key and and deactivates it. This happens every time I re load windows. I actually have to find a keygen to crack my legit windows copy...NOW WHY IS MICROSOFT DOING THIS!!! It happens on every windows i have. I have a legit windows 7 ultimate and windows pro. Any Ideas whats going on here?

Fri, Nov 2, 2012 Bill Missouri

The worst Windows program since Vista. On second thought it is much worse than Vista, and I am stil trying to register it

Fri, Oct 26, 2012 stillgolfing On. Canada

Generally disappointed in the early info on Win8. Not a techie but comfortable enough to help out other seniors in my community with their PC problems. Current big question I get is "Will my legacy 3rd party apps run in Win8?". Searched on this question, but didn't find ant answers Since these are the same apps that didn't run in Vista or Win7, I suspect not.Basically, to date, I have been doing everything I can to keep their old PC's (running XP), alive. Using, boards,disc drives and Power Supplies, I picked up cheap at Busines Auctions or garage sales. I'm pretty sure the little 75 year old German lady down the street is going to have a heart attack and die when I have to tell her that her current PC is unfixable, and there is nothing currently available that will run her favorite programs. Does Microsoft have a solution to conundrum?

Fri, Oct 26, 2012 David W. Houston, TX

Maybe I am missing something here but I just did the following: slui.exe 3 The entered they key from MSDN

Mon, Oct 22, 2012 Chris

I've tried for hours with activation and every method google has shown me during that time. Enterprise will not activate, just times out. Changed key properly first of course, disabled firewall in router, rebooted router, done updates, cmd line tools, everything. Even set my pc on the DMZ via the router. This is bloody stupid and basically will NOT recommend Windows 8 to anyone. What a waste of effort.

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 Mladen Belgrade

Great article and I have to mention that MS probably realized that if they make activation process so restrictive (for instance disable log in if product is not activated) a bunch of people would install some free OS (ubuntu with open office would do a trick). Ans as final result they would force people to replace MS OS. Perhaps this is not comment for this subject but I just have to write it. Regards.

Wed, Sep 5, 2012 sean glendale AZ

I had to use the VAMT 3 to input our MAK and KMS keys as the gui did not have an option like windows 7 did.

Tue, Sep 4, 2012

In my Technet subscription I did get a MAK and was able to activate. This part was no different than other later versions of Windows provided by Technet. What I found to be almost shocking is that there is no apparent way to change the activation key in the GUI. You have to use slmgr.vbs, which is not a great solution for end users or anyone who doesn't know about it.

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