Windows 7: the licensing mess continues

windows-7-top-10-things-462x347There’s a fabulous new document on Microsoft TechNet entitled “The 10 Things to Do First for Windows 7”, which is an excellent checklist on what you need to think about doing in your organisation before you move to Windows 7.

Windows 7: the licensing mess continues

I was particularly thrilled to read “Section 3: Plow through licensing”.

Now maybe I am just being a stick-in-the-mud, and I accept it is a Monday morning and I have a headache, but my headache is made worse by reading this:

3. Plow through licensing.

If your organization didn’t deploy Vista, you may not be familiar with the latest volume-activation requirements in Windows. If you’re an admin in an enterprise with more than 25 desktops and/or five servers, if your organization takes advantage of a volume-license program such as an Enterprise Agreement or Select Agreement, and if you purchase Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate (or you upgrade to those versions as part of Software Assurance), you should do the following: Print out a short stack of Volume Activation documents from, pour yourself a few ounces of a bold Tuscan wine and start studying.

When you eventually declare yourself completely confused, download an excellent webcast by product manager Kim Griffiths, who does a great job of explaining the program’s nuances. You’ll find the webcast at

In brief, to deploy Windows 7 desktops using volume licenses, you’ll probably need to install a Key Management Server (KMS). I say “probably” because you may not have enough machines in your organization to support KMS activation. A KMS won’t begin doling out activation approvals until it receives requests from at least 25 desktops and/or five servers. That’s to prevent unscrupulous vendors from using the same volume-license key for multiple small clients. Once activated, a client must reactivate every six months. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, there’s no reduced functionality mode in Windows 7. If the activation key expires, the desktop background simply goes black and a notification balloon states that the operating system isn’t genuine.

If you have fewer than the required number of devices for a KMS, you can obtain a Multiple Activation Key (MAK) that’s stocked with activation allocations based on the number of volume licenses you purchase, plus a fudge factor that allows you to add machines between true-ups. An MAK key is authenticated by a Microsoft hosted service, so you’ll need Internet access following the OS installation.

A change introduced with Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 now allows virtual machines to count against the KMS minimum for activation. This helps to boost your device count if you’re a small shop that uses lots of virtual desktops and servers.

If you already have a KMS for Vista and Windows Server 2008, you’ll be able to download an update for activating Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 machines.”

And at this point, just how many IT managers, especially in smaller companies, are going to say “fuggit” and go to the pub instead?

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