There’s a lot of confusion about CD or, more properly, “Product Keys”, those long strings of numbers and letters you need to type in when you install Microsoft Windows.
One source of confusion is where the CD Key comes from.
One hint: it’s not on the CD.
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The fact is that for any given version of a Windows CD, the CDs are all the same. The key to unlock the CD is not stored anywhere on the CD. If it were, each CD would have to be slightly different – it’s not quite a manufacturing nightmare, but it’s at least a bad dream.
The product key is typically printed on a label on the product packaging containing the CD when you purchase it. If you look closely at several copies of the same product, you’ll see that the key is different on each label.
You may think you’re purchasing a CD, but in fact, it’s more like you’re purchasing that product key. Any CD will do, but it’s your possession of a unique product key that verifies you as having purchased a legitimate copy of the product.
A CD without a product key? Without your unique product key? Not worth very much.
One of the reasons that the product keys are unique is to prevent piracy. Each person should receive a unique product key, and thus that product key should be used to install on only one machine. Microsoft is fairly vague on the details of “product activation”, but it’s likely that one of the things it checks is that the product key you entered is unique, and not already in use by someone else, or on another machine.
Now, if you have a legitimate, working installation of Microsoft Windows, you can, in fact, get the product key without the sticker. There’s a free tool: KeyFinder, that will report your product keys for Windows, and several other installed programs.
So in case you haven’t guessed, those product key stickers are valuable, and should be saved. Or at least make sure to save the product key information somewhere. If you ever need to reinstall Windows, you’ll need the product key again. I’ve actually collected all of mine and placed them in a spreadsheet for safekeeping.
And, I’m sorry to have to bother most of you with the following, but I know I’ll get the questions if I don’t:
- I cannot retrieve your product key for you.
- I cannot activate a product for you.
- I cannot give you a product key or activation code for any product.