Microsoft’s new Windows 10 build can tie licenses to your online account
Ever since Microsoft introduced Product Activation, the feature has been known to cause problems, deactivate PCs, and generally behave obnoxiously. Reactivating a PC that suddenly thinks your copy of Windows isn’t genuine (usually due to a hardware upgrade) ranges from a few clicks of the Activation Manager (best case) to a phone call to Microsoft. Now, the company wants to streamline this process and associate Windows activation codes with specific systems.
Here’s how PC World describes the new capability:
Using the Activation Troubleshooter, users can associate a digital Windows 10 license with their Microsoft account. After that, they can change out hardware on their PC and re-activate Windows with the license that they associated with their account.
There’s still a limit to how many times people can reactivate per account, but Microsoft hasn’t said what that is yet. One advantage of the account method is that Microsoft will know which precise version of Windows you purchased and can guide you to restoring it. For the majority of users this won’t matter, but if you have a Pro license and accidentally install Home, you can reactivate your Pro license without any trouble.
How good customers receive this capability will depend a great deal on whether or not Microsoft uses the information as an additional telemetry point and how well it communicates that decision. The company’s track record on both topics is less than great — even when its telemetry gathering isn’t designed to gather personal information, the company hasn’t done a great job of communicating its design (or in giving users full control over it).
The Windows 10 account creation screen
The other factor not explained here is how the new feature will interact with customers who buy various versions of the operating system. If you upgrade from a retail version of Windows 7 or 8.1 to a free version of Windows 10, you lose the retail license you purchased and are now tied to a single Windows 10 installation.
The flip side to this, however, is that associating a Windows license with a Microsoft account could make it easier to restore an OEM system after a drive failure. Most OEMs now only ship recovery information on a separate drive partition or by embedding the key in UEFI. Storing it in an MS account could provide a second type of backup in the event of UEFI corruption or if the backup partition fails.
One final point: For most of the past 15 years, Microsoft has allowed users to run unactivated Windows with little more than occasionally annoying pop-ups reminding you to activate. This appears to still be the case with the Windows Anniversary Update, whether this new feature is used or not.