1. Introduction

Before the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft operating systems installed under volume licence agreements, such as those available within the University via the Microsoft Select and Campus Agreements, did not require activation. However, this changed with the release of Windows Vista and Volume Licensing 2.0.

Operating systems that use Volume Licensing 2.0 must be activated after installation. For volume licence editions, this currently applies to Windows Vista and all editions of Server 2008; we expect future Microsoft operating system releases are to have similar requirements.

There are a number of mechanisms that may be used to activate systems, and broadly speaking these fall into two categories, namely permanent activation via a one-time operation, or an activation lease which is automatically renewed as required.

The preferred mechanism for activating Microsoft operating systems obtained under the Microsoft Campus and Select Agreements is via a lease obtained from a central server. This uses a service provided by Microsoft called the Key Management Service (KMS). It may be used for volume licence versions of Vista Business and Vista Enterprise downloaded from the ITSS Site Licensed Software site (restricted access), and all versions of Windows Server 2008 purchased from the Computing Services Shop. Vista Ultimate and work-at-home editions purchased from the Shop each use permanent one-time activation.

1.1. Central KMS Server

The Computing Services provide a server running KMS to provide activation leases. This KMS server may be used to activate systems installed from volume licence media obtained under the University Microsoft Select or Campus agreements excluding work-at-home and Vista Ultimate editions. It may not be used to activate versions of operating systems obtained from other sources.

For details of how to configure Windows operating systems to activate agains the University KMS, registered ITSS should refer to the ITSS Wiki Microsoft Volume Licensing Activation pages (restricted access).

If you need to run servers that cannot periodically contact the central KMS server (for example you have servers on an isolated network for security purposes) please contact OUCS via software@oucs.ox.ac.uk to discuss alternatives.

The following generally applies to systems activated via a KMS server.

  • Systems can be installed from media without being activated. They will be fully functional immediately, and there is an initial grace period before activation is required. This is 30 days for desktop operating systems and 60 days for server editions.
  • Systems are activated by obtaining a lease; they are not permanently activated.
  • The lease must be renewed periodically. Systems will automatically renew the lease every 7 days by contacting the KMS. Systems without a valid lease will contact the KMS more frequently (every 2 hours).
  • Systems can remain activated for up to 180 days without needing to contact the KMS.
  • Systems that haven't renewed their activation lease within 180 days have a 30 day grace period before they will persistently notify that they need to be activated. In addition they will display a black desktop background, and Windows Update will only install critical updates. Vista systems that are pre-SP1 will enter Reduced Functionality Mode, which makes it very difficult to use the system.

1.2. Permanent Activation

Some editions of Vista come with a single-system key and use one-time activation; they do not use the KMS server. For college and departmental machines that cannot connect the KMS server to renew their lease for some reason, consider Vista Ultimate. The following editions use this mechanism.
  • For Microsoft Vista, colleges and departments may purchase copies of Vista Ultimate edition from the Computing Services Shop. Each set of media comes with its own key for one-time activation direct to Microsoft via Internet or phone.
  • Work at home media for Windows Vista also uses one-time activation direct to Microsoft via Internet or phone. It is available to eligible members of the University from the Computing Services Shop.

Systems activated via a one-time method, and not using the KMS server, will never need to be activated again, unless significant changes are made to the hardware of the system.

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