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Your nagging Windows license questions, answered

Sandro Villinger | June 15, 2012
Just got a fleet of OEM PCs for your company or just a single PC for your home? Confused by what you can (and can't) do with your license or installation media? We've got answers to some of the most common questions, traps and gotchas around Windows XP and 7 OEM keys.

Q: I absolutely hate the sticker with the Windows key on it. Can I remove that?

A: Yes, you could once you've safely written down your product key. However, the "Certificate of Authenticity" sticker is required for your OEM to reinstall Windows. Imagine you need to send in your laptop due to a faulty hard drive. While the OEM may be able to replace the disk, they won't reinstall Windows if there's no Certificate of Authenticity present. Besides, in most cases it's actually hidden underneath the laptop or at the back of the desktop -- you won't see it most of time anyway.

Q: On eBay, I just found a copy of Windows 7 that reads "COA only" in its description. Is this legal?

A: No. This is either a scratched off COA sticker from another PC (see question above) or it is part of a OEM System Builder version. See this quote from the System Builders Licensing FAQ:

END USER PROOF OF LICENSE. If you acquired the SOFTWARE on a device, or on a compact disc or other media, a genuine Microsoft "Proof of License" COA label with a genuine copy of the SOFTWARE identifies a licensed copy of the SOFTWARE. To be valid, the label must be affixed to the COMPUTER, or appear on the SOFTWARE packaging. If you receive the label separately, it is invalid. You should keep the label on the COMPUTER or packaging to prove that you are licensed to use the SOFTWARE.

Q: There are cheap copies of Windows 7 Ultimate on eBay. They all claim they're legit and 100% from Microsoft. Can I trust such offers?

A: Beware of low pricing. These keys could be part of a MSDN subscription and as such may not be redistributed. If this is the case, they are guaranteed to land on Microsoft's black list sooner or later if the reseller decided to sell one product key several times. While activation may work for days, weeks or even months, your Windows 7 copy may end up being marked as "non-genuine" once Microsoft used its Windows Update service to determine the activation status. My advice: get Windows 7 from an authorized Microsoft reseller or from Microsoft directly.

Q: I own a small company with 20 PCs and would like to save some cash on Windows licenses. Should I even start looking at "Volume Licensing"?

A: You can qualify for Volume Licensing if you've got more than 5 PCs in your company. But be careful: all Volume Licenses are only eligible for upgrades. You need to purchase a full Windows license and then upgrade using the VL versions. Also, once you've assigned a license to one PC, you can't transfer this to another PC.


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