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Windows product key types and differences

Windows product key types and differences

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If you are planning to upgrade your system to a new version of Windows, or if you are upgrading your PC entirely and are concerned about having to pay for a new Windows license/product key as well, we recommend that you look into it further and see if you can use the same license on your next computer.

Microsoft has been iterating methods for users to conveniently activate their Windows operating system since the release of Windows 10. Nonetheless, some people may find it perplexing. If you are one of those people, this post may be of assistance.

Today, we’ll look at the various types of product keys and licenses that Windows employs and how they differ. Using this information, you can determine whether you need to pay for a new license and, if so, which one to get.

Windows product key vs. digital license

Before we get into the various types of product keys, we’d like to draw your attention to the two ways a Windows operating system can be activated. This can be accomplished using any of the following methods:

  • Using a 25-digit product key.
  • Using a digital license.

The product key is a 25-digit alpha-numeric code that must be physically entered into your operating system to activate it. A digital license is similar to a physical license, except that it is automatically embedded into your operating system and you do not have to manually enter any information.

A digital license installs a product key on your computer without requiring you to do so manually.

When should you use a Windows product key?

In the following scenarios, a product key is typically used to activate the operating system:

  • When purchasing a new computer with Windows 11/10 already installed.
  • Purchasing a boxed (physical) copy of Windows 11/10 from a reputable retailer.
  • Purchasing a digital copy from a reputable retailer.
  • Having a Volume License (discussed further below) or an MSDN (discussed further below) subscription.
  • Purchasing a new Windows operating system from the Microsoft Store.

When should you use a Windows digital license?

A digital license is typically used to activate the operating system in the following scenarios:

  • Free upgrade to a newer operating system (e.g., from Windows 10 to Windows 11), provided the device is running a genuine copy of the previous OS.
  • When purchasing a Windows Professional upgrade from the Microsoft Store (from the Home edition).
  • While upgrading to a recent Windows Insider release on a PC that already has a Windows operating system activated.
  • Purchasing genuine Windows online from the Microsoft Store.

A Windows operating system employs two types of activation methods. These, however, do not specify the types of product keys/digital licenses.

Types of Windows licenses/product keys

There are various types of Windows product keys or digital licenses. There are three primary types of licenses, each of which has sub-types.

Full packaged product (FPP) License (Retail)

FPP licenses, also known as box licenses, are sold at retail by authorized distributors. These are physical boxes that contain, among other things, installation media (a USB device) and a user’s guide.

There are two types of FPP licenses:

  • Full License: A Full License allows you to install the operating system version and edition available on the installation media (included in the box), regardless of the version that is currently installed on the computer.
  • Upgrade License: An Upgrade License enables you to upgrade your existing Windows version to a newer version. This license is less expensive than a Full License.

When you install an FPP license, the end-user agrees with Microsoft about the software’s usage rights (Windows). This includes information such as the number of computers on which the license can be used, downgrade rights, and so on.

Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) licenses

An Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) is a company that manufactures computers, such as HP, Dell, Asus, and others. Microsoft provides licenses for these OEMs to use on their computers.

If you buy a new computer with Windows already installed, it is most likely an OEM license that was integrated into the computer directly from the company.

When you install an OEM license on your computer, Microsoft absolves itself of all responsibility. For example, if you discover a problem with your OEM Windows OS, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer (Dell, etc.) to resolve the issue.

OEM licenses eliminate the need for a separate license purchase by making it easier for the end user to purchase a computer that is ready to use.

Volume licenses

For organizations that need to activate multiple Windows devices, volume licenses are more convenient and cost-effective. This type of license allows you to pay only for the software, whereas an FPP license requires you to pay for all of the contents of the box, including the installation media.

Your organization manages volume licenses using either the Key Management Service (KMS) or Multiple Activation Keys (MAK).

As a result, the end user no longer needs to be concerned about activating their operating system. Instead, the system administrator can control it via the Volume License Service Center Portal.

Volume Licenses are also divided into sub-types. They are intended for organizations of various sizes (small to medium, large, etc).

Now that you’ve learned about the different types of licenses, let’s look at which ones you have on your Windows computer.

How to check if Windows is Retail, OEM, or Volume licensed

The following steps will help you determine the type of license you have on your Windows computer:

  1. Launch an elevated Command Prompt.
  2. Paste the following cmdlet and press Enter to run it.
slmgr -dli
  1. You will now see a window stating the details of your Windows license, including its type.

How to transfer Windows license

If you have a valid Windows license on one machine and intend to switch to another, you may be able to use the same license on your new computer as well. However, there are some restrictions.

If you purchased a license from the Microsoft Store, a digital license copy will be stored in your Microsoft account as well. In that case, you can transfer your license from one computer to another using the same account.

Alternatively, you can find your product key on your current PC, save it, and then use it on the other computer. Of course, you must first uninstall it from your current computer because it can only be used on one computer at a time.

Check if your Windows license can be transferred

As previously stated, there are a few prerequisites for transferring your Windows activation license:

  • An OEM license is not transferable.
  • You are only eligible for a one-time transfer if you previously upgraded from a retail version of Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 to Windows 10 or 11.
  • A retail license can be transferred an unlimited number of times.
  • If you upgraded the Windows edition, you can use your Microsoft account to transfer the license with the embedded digital license.

Transfer Windows license

Now that you’ve determined your license type (via the guide above) and whether it can be transferred, follow the steps below to move your Windows product key from one computer to another:

  1. Begin by locating and noting your current product key.
  2. To remove the product key, launch Command Prompt with elevated privileges and execute the following cmdlet.
slmgr.vbs /upk
  1. After you’ve removed the key, go to the following location on your new computer (where you want to transfer the license): Settings app >> System >> Activation
  2. To activate this operating system, click Change in front of “Change product key,” and then enter your noted product key.

How to check Windows activation status

You can check your operating system’s activation status at the following location: Settings app >> System >> Activation

Expanding the Activation State can show several different statements. The table below illustrates what each of those statements can mean:

  • Windows is activated: Windows is activated but a Microsoft account is not linked.
  • Windows is activated with a digital license: Windows is activated but a Microsoft account is not linked. to your digital license.
  • Windows is activated with a digital license linked to your Microsoft account: Windows is activated and your Microsoft account is already linked to your digital license.
  • Windows is not activated: Windows is not activated and you will see an error message explaining the failure.

We hope that this post has cleared up any confusion about the various Windows licenses and their types. You can also use this guide to determine which license type is best for your needs if you are looking to purchase a new license for yourself or your organization.

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