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Why Can’t I Activate Windows XP?


I’m trying to activate Windows XP Home. I’ve just performed a clean setup, and Windows now won’t let me even log in until I activate. The network card has apparently not yet been configured, so I can’t activate over the ‘net. When I do the phone activation, the “installation ID” I’m supposed to give the Microsoft representative is blank. What do I do?

This article is here for historical purposes only. Windows XP is no longer supported, and it’s very likely that Microsoft will eventually decommission its activation servers.

That question wasn’t posed by just any reader. This time it was me.

And after an hour and a half on the phone, I was no further along.

And yet, left to my own devices I had the machine activated in about 10 minutes.

This is not good. Not at all. In fact, it’s downright depressing.

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First, the background.

I have a Dell Latitude 131L that’s perhaps two years old. It came with Windows XP Home pre-loaded from Dell. I’d loaned the machine to a friend for a while who’d recently returned it. I used it as a testbed and installed Ubuntu Linux on it, played with it for a bit, and then left it to sit in a corner.

Today I decided that this was the machine to use for a new employee at my wife’s business. So, time to reformat and reinstall.

Now, here is the only confusing factor: the machine is a Dell, and came with Dells OEM version of Windows XP Home pre-installed. The product key for XP Home that was installed on it is on a sticker on the bottom of the laptop. Like so many of my readers, I’d lost, misplaced, or just didn’t feel like looking for the actual Dell Windows XP Home disk, particularly since I had a old pre-SP1 retail disk (purchased from the Microsoft Company Store) in front of me that I’d never used. The product key for one CD of Windows XP Home should work with any other – remember, it’s the product key you’re purchasing, not just a CD. If not, I expected it would at least generate an error when I entered it. So when I installed Windows I entered the original Dell product key, even though I was installing a retail copy of XP Home.

The thing is, it worked. Or at least it seemed to. Windows Setup dutifully accepted the product key, reformatted the entire hard drive as I requested and copied over files from the CD. It just generally seemed to be working, and working well.

I’m sure that most of the time it works. But … Oh. My. God.

Until it rebooted and hung. (Still no idea what that was about.)

I removed the CD, and hard-booted the machine, and sure enough, Windows came up except that it presented me with a message I’d never seen before, and didn’t even know existed: “You must first activate this copy of Windows before you can log in”. This was new. In my experience Windows will normally allow you to log in and complete your set-up without activating, giving you 30 days to get around to that.

OK, whatever, I decided to activate. The choices came up, I plugged in a network cable and told Windows to activate itself over the net. No. The network card hadn’t been configured yet, there was no external connectivity available. The only option was to activate Windows over the phone.

I hesitated, but having advised so many people in the past that phone activation is no big deal, I decided to live by my own words, and picked up the phone.

I’m sure that most of the time it works. But … Oh. My. God. Here’s the highly edited sequence:

  • I call the activation number, which is of course automated. It asked me to type in the “installation ID” that should be displayed on my screen at this point. The problem was that it wasn’t there:

Windows Activate by Phone Screen

I’ve called out where the installation ID should be, and as you can see it’s
not there.

The automated phone system had no clue how to handle that.

  • I was given the option to ask for “help”, where I was routed to a real person. A real person who also had no idea what to do, and directed me to Microsoft technical support.
  • I called tech support, and was treated to a long list of “pay per incident” support options, until at the last minute I could dial “0” to speak to a technical support representative.
  • The initial support rep, who acts as a kind of gate keeper and call router, took a bunch of my information, listened to my problem and put me on hold. After 10-15 minutes he came back and indicated that I needed to speak to a technical support agent. He gave me a “Service Request” (SR) number, and then transferred me.
  • The next technical support person had me try stuff. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say “the usual stuff”, most of which I’d already tried; rebooting, re-entering the product key and so on. The fact that at this point there were few options didn’t stop us from trying.
  • And, of course, the questions: where’d I buy this copy, what kind of computer, and more.
  • Nothing we did changed anything. No “installation ID”.
  • One of the interesting steps he had me try was to reboot in safe mode. It turns out that in safe mode you don’t have to activate first – you can get right into Windows. (Complete with the “you have 30 days to activate” pop up). He had me install some random .inf file (oobe.inf – apparently the “Out Of Box Experience” application) which installed a few more things from CD. After a reboot nothing had changed.

At this point I’m about 45 minutes into it and probably would have given up had I not begun envisioning this article resulting from my experience. Any normal person would have throw up their hands at this point, I’m certain.

I persevered.

  • I was put on hold several times while the tech researched the issue.
  • I had been fairly clear about what I was doing, but at one point I was very explicit that I was using the Dell OEM Windows XP Home product key to install the Retail Windows XP Home CD. (In honesty, I was kind of expecting that to be the issue.) The tech grabbed on to that and said, of course, that wouldn’t work. So we tried the product key that was included on the Windows XP Home retail disk. No luck. Same error.
  • The tech finally decided that getting me a new product key was the thing to do. But that meant transferring me, again, to a different department.
  • He stayed on the line while that happened, and I got a new key. No joy. Same error.
  • That’s when the tech pretty much gave up, saying that he’d tried all the options. There must be something wrong with my CD, and I should probably take it back to where I’d purchased it, and replace it.
  • That’s where I pretty much gave up as well, having spent some 90 minutes with Microsoft attempting to tackle this problem. We closed the issue as “unresolved”.

To their credit everyone I talked to was polite and honestly intent on getting whatever issue was in front of them resolved. (I, too, took pains to remain calm and friendly throughout. Tempting as it is, anger rarely helps.)

And I also have to point out that I totally get that remote debugging is incredibly difficult. I know, I try to do it every day answering questions here. It’s hard. But that’s exactly what we expect technical support specialists to be good at.

The problem was that ultimately, they had no clue. They were just fishing for answers. And as a result they wasted an hour and a half (and more) of my life in the process.

Very disappointing. And frustrating. I can understand that a less patient person would have had a difficult time staying civil – what I was looking for was very simple: I wanted to install and run Microsoft Windows, all legal and above board.

And I simply couldn’t.

Left to my own devices, I fixed it in about 10 minutes.

And that, to me, is the truly shameful part.

The key was my statement early on: “The network card hadn’t been configured yet, there was no external connectivity available.” That’s a statement I made repeatedly to the folks at Microsoft.

The other key was noticing that I could get into the computer by using Safe Mode.

My approach was very simple: get the network working, and then see if I could activate that way.

I downloaded network drivers for this model of laptop from Dell, and using a DVD-RW, copied them on to the laptop, which I had rebooted into Safe Mode. The setup programs for the drivers didn’t work – apparently the Windows Installer is disabled in Safe Mode. However the driver files were available.

I went to the network device in Device Manager (it had the familiar yellow question mark that indicated there was a problem), clicked “update driver”, pointed it to the folder containing the drivers for Windows XP for this laptop’s network card, and installed.

Then I rebooted.

I didn’t reboot into Safe Mode, just plain old default regular Windows.

And directly into Windows I went. No “you must first activate before you can login”, just directly into Windows. And yes, once there I saw the expected “you have 30 days to activate” pop up.

And the network worked.

As did activation.

The machine’s next to me as I type this, happily installing SP2, as it should.

Aside from formatting that DVD-RW, it took 10 minutes, tops.

Here’s my theory:

A machine without connectivity of any sort is a problem. If Windows Setup can’t determine that there’s a way to connect to the internet ever (i.e. there’s no network adapter of any kind – even though I had networking hardware, Windows didn’t see it, as evidenced by the lack of drivers having been installed on setup), it seems like it drops back to this ultra “secure” mode where you must activate before you can even use your machine.

I also theorize that since the “installation ID” is actually comprised of information about the system, like its network adapter’s MAC or other serial number, the lack of that network adapter caused it problems too. It was unable (or perhaps unwilling) to calculate the installation ID that was necessary for me to activate by phone.

A classic catch-22: I needed to activate by phone because I didn’t have a network card to activate over the net, and I couldn’t activate by phone because I didn’t have a network card to generate the required ID.

I could, of course, be wrong, but that’s what it “feels” like.

Two conclusions:

  1. Since this is an older CD of Windows XP Home, I’m hoping that if it is a bug in Windows Setup and installation, that it’s been fixed in more recent releases.
  2. Regardless, Microsoft support should have known about this behavior, and there should have been a better solution offered other than “get a new CD”. (Which, in hindsight, would not have solved the problem.)

Even though I worked there for so many years, and in part because I worked there for so many years, I take great care not to come across as some kind of Microsoft fanboy. While the preceding certainly wouldn’t be mistaken for that, I know some think I cut Microsoft more slack than they deserve.

I can’t say what they “deserve”, but I can say that my experience was very disappointing, and that I have a lot more sympathy for folks who have had to go through similar scenarios, without the fall back of being able to just get things to work themselves.

If it weren’t for the job requirements, this laptop might just have ended up running Linux.

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124 comments on “Why Can’t I Activate Windows XP?”

  1. According to, if a hardware component isn’t present, XP activation should just set the relevent bit-field to all-zeros and still compute the hardware hash just fine. Indeed, there are other hardware components used in the hash which will very commonly not be present (e.g. SCSI host adapter ID string); and I find it very hard to believe that you’re the first person to install XP on a computer without a network adaptor.

    Very strange.

  2. I’ve never been able to get an OEM key to even be accepted as valid using a retail install disk. More than once, we’ve had a client’s system with a dead HD that needed XP reinstalled. Of course, they didn’t have any media (computers typically don’t include the media nowadays, and the hidden recovery partition is useless on a dead HD) so we tried our own install disks. (Which should be perfectly legal, as they had a valid key.) I don’t recall the retail install ever accepting an OEM key as being valid.

    We now have a set of “Gateway XP”, “Dell XP”, “Toshiba XP”, and so on, to be used in these situations. (Perfectly legal, as I understand it, as they are only used to reinstall onto systems which have a license key on the case.)

    I read somewhere that the installation media has a file on it which describes which type of key can be used.

  3. Despite not having made any hardware changes I have to go through this (phone activation) every time I reformat XP Home. To make matters worse, each time I call their call center I get someone on the phone that can barely speak English. A major pain in the you-know-what.

  4. Great article Leo. Many of us feel your pain. It’s amazing that no one at Microsoft knows how to deal with a missing Installation ID. Don’t they have a Knowledge Base where they can type “missing installation id”. Certainly you’re not the first person on the planet to run into this problem. That they couldn’t figure out how to let a legal user run Windows is a disgrace. The moral of the story: it’s nice to be a monopoly so you don’t have to do a good job.

  5. Hi Leo! Great newsletter – I always read it. My opinion (after 30 years writing code): Windoze is dead dead dead. 20 years from now, it’ll be gone. Utter disdain for the user is why. A remarkable blend of arrogance and incompetence supported by a monopoly position: that is not the American way. That’s why the stock price is flat. Ballmer sees it: that’s why he wants to redeploy capital to buy Yahoo. Folks, I rest my case.

  6. Leo,
    I also had the same problem but it wasnt Dell or any other brand it was an assambled PC. I Reinstall the windows and had the activation problem but it was more worst then yours. You can atleast go into Safe Mode!!! but with me it was not even going into Safe Mode.
    So then finally i made a Format.

  7. Good article,I had the misfortune of successfully transferring my XP home from a small drive to a larger drive only to end up having to phone in on a Saturday,after much ado the M$ agent said,call back Monday…*WELL*… I reformatted and used a copy and that was that …I,ve never looked back and Linux,BSD are my main operating systems now…Linux has come of age now and you are really spoiled for choice,its fabulous…

  8. For next time, you can avoid ALL of what you wrote about. I have had success with following the tip below, which I made note of from PC Magazine (11/5/02 issue):

    “Don’t reactivate after reinstalling. If you reinstall Windows XP, you normally have to reativate it, but there’s a way around reactivation. Windows XP maintains the activation information in the file ‘Wpa.dbl,’ which you’ll find in the WindowsSystem32 folder. After you activate, and any time you add hardware to your system, back up the file to another disk. If you need to reinstall Windows XP for any reason, go through the installation routine, then copy the latest version of Wpa.dbl to the Windowssystem32 folder.”

    As a result of this tip, I’ve made it a practice to back up this file whenever I make a hardware change on each Windows XP computer I have (or work with, such as my wife’s & children’s). Unfortunately, I understand that Vista doesn’t allow this easy step to avoid reactivation.

  9. Hey, I had the same problem about a month ago – same messages and everything. I just believed that it was a common thing as fixing it seemed relatively easy…reinstalling windows on friend’s Dell PC, used original disks and key, hanged, rebooted, wouldn’t activate (never noticed windows didn’t see the network card – I’ve never had internet access on any XP install I’ve done until drivers are installed), booted into safe mode, gave up after the limitations there became apparent (couldn’t be bothered calling MS)and so re-installed windows again, this time doing things differently – I can’t remember how, but first install just didn’t seem right, whether it was something wrong on my part I also don’t know….anyways that

  10. Leo, sorry to hear of your trauma on the phone (can’t image staying calm through that), but thank you for doing it. This is the best (or at least most personally useful) article (and replies) I’ve seen here for a while.

    I’ve been wanting to reinstall XP on my kids machine for a while now (too many years of games she doesn’t use anymore, a housesitter accessing questionable internet content, etc. generally cluttering things up) but always reluctant as all I had was the OEM “go back to square one” disc (NOT a full XP installation disc, but XP on her machine does have a valid license). The info here may help me make the plunge into a full reinstall.

    P.S. If you have a valid XP (or whatever Windows etc.) installation but don’t have the key on a sticker or what have you on your box, Belarc Advisor (probably found the link here originally) is great freeware for documenting ALL the license keys for ALL your software – good to run NOW in case something dies).

  11. I am 54 years young and I can remember a young M$ and an old IBM. IBM got arogant and did not care about its customers both public and business because it thought it had them all locked up and with Unix flavors hurting each other it was correct. Except for M$ and now the same thing is happening again except IBM is M$ and M$ is Linex.

  12. I just upgraded to XP from Win98SE at home.

    After an hour and a half XP reported that my Motorola software wasn’t compatible with XP, but the installation completed. I have the 30-minus days to activate icon sitting in the system tray.

    I found the Motorola software but the install didn’t look quite right, but at least I have a computer that knows how to read USB drives, my digital camera and digital frame (hopefully). If I can get back on the net I will avoid the telephone activation.

    Thanks for the info on the USB drive viruses and turning off autoplay.

  13. I am now using Ubuntu linux on a laptop which consistently froze when booting XP. Whatever I tried, including reformatting and reinstalling, the computer always froze at a certain point when starting XP and I couldn’t figure out what the problem was.

    Although Ubuntu has fair share of problems and bugs, overall once it was setup to my liking, until I want/need to change the hardware, network or anything else that requires configuration it is nice and reliable.

  14. Personally I wouldn’t have bothered. I stopped using Microsoft Windows in 2002. The whole activation thing got up my nose once too often. I’m now a happy Linux (Mandriva) user, with no activation issues, no single computer install issues, and access to more software than I can poke a stick at. I no longer find anything compelling about Microsoft Windows, and when I am forced to use Microsoft Windows the experience is one of downgrading to a far less useful system with huge chunks of functionality missing.

  15. I have read your article with great interest !If YOU had these problems,imagine an old geezer of 69 years of age (Me) who only had a PC for 1 year and learned mostly from “Dummies”books.
    I subscribed to your newsletter recently and read all keenly (even if some is still over my head) Found a lot af help in your articles !!
    Keep up the great work and thanks for bothering at all !
    Cheers and good luck,regards,Fred

  16. My opinion is that your install CD was corrupted, thats; why the installation did not reboot and was not finished (your NIC driver was missing)

    Anyhow, if you have a message that you need to activate and you cannot login,

    You can get around it, just look around try F1 for help, find any link that will open Internet Explorer. and with internet explorer you just launch explorer.exe and work with the PC for ever, just keep the windows with activation open, closing this window will end your session.

  17. I had a similar experience, except mine wasn’t an OEM version and I wasn’t given given an option to activate by phone. I was told I had an illegal version, even though it was not and I had reinstalled it with no problems many times in the past. My question to you is why did you bother? I stayed with Ubuntu and even if I could reinstall windows I wouldn’t. XP sits on the shelf gathering dust and thats where it will stay.

  18. I can’t understand why people put themselves through so much pain for an evil corporation like Microsoft. Just install Linux and you’ll more software than you know what to do with, no malware, no spyware, no crashes no cost, no pain.

  19. Who cares, running windows on a computer is like buying a car and having your keys stop working if you put new tires on it.

    Microsoft needs to stop acting like a bully in the market place.

  20. I had the same problem with a new system setup. I used the most current version of the MS install disk as well.
    The problem IS the lack of identifiable network card. While I was unable to install driver’s in safe mode, I was able to install a network card into the machine and get a valid installation id. This enabled me to activate windows and complete my setup

  21. I had a similar problem.

    Can’t access the net because there are no drivers and no ID Number to tell the tell the “Tech” (someone with a flip book of instructions that they follow no matter what you say even if you have done them five times already and tell them it doesn’t work. They make you do them again with each “Tech” and then when it doesn’t work again they put you on hold while they read the next steps in the book.)

    I’ve learned three things.
    1. Microsoft is no help with this problem except to waste about an hour and a half making you reboot, read numbers, edit the registry, boot to safe mode, get numbers off the center of the install disk, make you change the product key, transfer you to someone else who will go through the same stuff and still not fix the problem.

    2. When you install don’t add a password when asked – leave blank.

    3. Don’t name the machine just accept the default name that is in the box.

    This allows it to boot to the point that you can add drives. It will begin to ask you to activate incessantly, but wait until you have all the drivers then activate over the net.

    This has worked for me.


  22. Leo,

    Thanks for this article, it now gives me renewed hope! I wasted an entire vacation day yesterday trying to re-install Windows XP. The begining story was different. My PC refused to let me install service pack 2, which lead to issues with Norton and I suspect some other software abnormalities. I had tried re-installing the software previously but the re-install would not accept my product key. I suspected it had something to do with the fact that the machine was built at tech school. So, I forked out the money and bought a new install disk and product key. The first attempt appeared to work but Windows ran extremely slow. When I tried to do a windows update, it failed installing service pack 3. I tried installing xp again and I got similar results as you did. The third attempt, I decided to to a complete reload rather than the option to repair the existing install. Same problem, I could not activate with the network card and when I tried the phone option no installation ID. However, I did find that if I attempted a network install then selected telephone at the fail screen, then an installation ID would display. I then did the phone activiation and it accepted the number provided but when I attempted to log in, it would not allow it and would tell me to active Windows. So, I would say OK activate, and it would tell me it was already activated. When I went to bed last night at midnight, I was caught in this endless loop.

    I’ll now try the save mode approach to see if that helps.

  23. I just went through the whole rigamarow you wrote about above to activate XP over the telephone… only to have it successfully finish and then tell me right afterwards I needed to activate my windows to be able to log in. Thats right, the telephone activation finished with the “Thanks for activating!” screen and then it went into a loop.

    Its now 19:27 and I have to have this PC up and running by tomorrow morning. I’m not pleased to say the very least.

    And the kicker is, I’m using a brand new XP CD with the code it came with.

  24. Just wanted to add how I fixed my problem. I did an XP repair install over the fubared installation. Since it already had the NIC drivers installed, this time I was able to log in with no problem. I ended up getting home at around 23:00… *sigh*

  25. Hi
    I had this problem. I found the network was ok put the sound card driver was not installed. I installed it in safe mode and rebooted. Then it once again told me I had to activate it. This time it still would not do it over the internet but the phone worked. But after I rebooted I get the “need to activate” again. If I click yes I get a message that the computer is already activated. I get caught in a loop. I went to MS and ran through their fix. No good. I gave up. I am now re-formating and will try once again to install. IF this doesn’t work I may go visit the MAC store.

  26. I just had the same crap of this activation stuff, and the loop after doing the network driver fix and online activation. Question : when you installed XP, was your LAN cable plugged in or not? Mine was the 1st time. Now its out…. maybe it makes a difference ???

  27. Updated: Problem solved. Unplugging the network cable, as per earlier post. And also, I used another XP OEM CD. Both CD’s are original as bought in the package disks.
    Somehow I think Leo has a point, the network drivers / Active LAN has something to do with this. In my case: on a G31M Gigabyte mobo.

  28. Certainly a LAN Card CAN have something to do with the missing Activation ID problem, however as a system builder, it is unusual for us to try and register Windows before we install the drivers anyway and virtually all the time, that works.

    The missing link here is finding out what triggers the immediate activation screen on startup, rather than the usual 30 days. It does happen with mismatched versions of Windows and Product Keys, multiple activations for the same number and problems reading the Windows CD.

    The most annoying part of this is that the legitimate owners and repairers get the problem and the pirates get cheats that do not suffer the same fates. Microsoft needs a better plan.

    Thank you Leo for your article, it certainly assisted me as one of the posters had my solution, a different legitimate CD. My WinXP Pro SP2 CD with its Product Key had the fault, yet a new WinXP Pro SP3 CD with my Win XP Pro SP2 Product Key didn’t. That stops piracy?

  29. Found a perfect way past this problem as i had repaired a pc for a neighbour whose installation of windows on her laptop became corrupted.

    The usual fixboot / fixmbr all failed to work but she needed to keep the info and files that she had on her laptop so a full installation was out of the question so did a repair install of windows which went ok apart from 1 lock up.

    Was then met with the you must acticate windows before you can log on…..
    as per the most of you i could not connect as the drivers for the ethernet or wireless were yet installed,
    so i used the tip from this site and it works 100%
    hope it can help anyone else stuck with the same problem.

    I dont know if it’s a legitimate way – but it works
    and to me – thats all that matters
    especially if the OS your asked to fix is legitimate version

  30. I had exactly the same problem. Found Leo’s advice and tried manual install of netcard-drivers. This allowed me manual activation by phone, but the result was the evil logon/activation loop: “you must activate before logon/XP already activated/you must activate.. ”

    Microsoft of course went directly into parrot-mode: try reinstalling, try reinstalling, try ….

    The Windows-repair method didn’t work – the unplug-the-network-cable didn’t work – the try-another-legit-cd-method didn’t work and the how-to-login-to-expired-windows method didn’t work (the Narrator utility only exists in english language XP).

    At the end, I found out that the solution was exactly the same as mentioned in the article by Barry at May 19, 2008 7:22 AM:

    1. When you install don’t add a password for the administrator-account when asked – leave blank.

    2. Don’t name the machine just accept the default name that is in the box.

    That did the trick. For the first time I wasn’t forced to activate before I could log in, and I could happily install network- and other drivers and activate XP by the internet.

  31. would you believe i had same problem today. Thanks to you I put old network card in and it went online and activated in seconds…Thanks, you saved me an afternoon

  32. Thanks Leo! That did the trick.

    I was given an HP a6500f desktop that was reloaded with XP Pro but never activated. It had been sitting in a closet for over 60 days, hence the forced activation. Booted into Safe Mode, loaded the NIC driver and was off and running.

  33. THANKS for the advice (or the hint).
    The line that is ALL SO TRUE above, is that this happens when Windows can’t find the internet. I went into the device manager in safe mode and re-activated my Ethernet card.
    Straight into Windows.

    Thanks again,


    PS: Never, ever think that a support rep can help you with this stuff – always go to the internet!!

  34. I was trying to re-install XP Home on a Toshiba laptop for a customer. The first install I got the pop up to activate XP before it would let me to the desktop. Clicked yes and of course there was no internet connection. Tried the activate by phone and like Leo’s problem, no numbers.

    Re-installed a second time with a different disc, which turned out to be a corporate disc with the key built in. Got the key changed and wound up talking to a Microsoft rep to get it activated. Then the endless loop of you need to activate / it’s already activated. Tried Microsoft’s solution of making registry changes and really got things botched up.

    Third install with yet another XP disc resulted in such and such file can’t be loaded so I aborted the install. Started over with disc 2 for the 4th install. After it loaded I got the “You must first activate this copy of Windows before you can log in” message again, but this time there were numbers to give the automated voice. Activation completed, and the endless loop started again.

    That’s when I found this article and loaded the network card in safe mode. Booted back into regular mode and still had the activation required message. I thought about it for a while and decided to try installing SP2 in safe mode. It installed and when it came back to regular mode, no more activation required message. I proceeded to install drivers and so far the installation is working fine.

    I’m going to slipstream an SP2 disc so that hopefully I won’t run into this again.

  35. Hi. Thanks for the advice Leo. I have just spent HOURS trying to get Microsoft to allow me to reactivate XP Pro on one of my laptops after a completely fresh install, and discovered that not all drivers had been correctly installed. Loaded the drivers,the computer regenerated a new key- and bingo,Microsoft allowed me to reactivate what I had already paid for ! Hope Bill Gates enjoys his retirement, we have all paid for it with blood, sweat & tears…..

  36. Same issue here folks. Wasted over an hour on the phone with Microsoft East. Final fix… Safe Mode, MSCONFIG, Selective Startup, uncheck Load Startup Items. Make sure that there is nothing checked in the Startup tab. Reboot regular, added IP address and NIC, activate over internet OK. MS needs to get their act together…..

  37. Leo, your way has been patched, and its very hard to re-install xp now.

    It’s because it more popular than vista… my advice is to download SP2 and SP3 for multiple installations and use an original SP1 disk.

  38. Getting the key from the disc doesn’t work. It will get you through the first hurdle, but fails when you try to activate it online.

    That’s what I’ve been telling people, but some folks refuse to believe me.

    – Leo
  39. Thank you, I went through exactly the same problem and process with the same lack of assistance from Microsoft and gave up when I found this article.
    It is certainly a shame it is such a hassle, but at least there is a solution!

  40. Leo, just by sheer accident I hit the “updates are ready for your computer button” and I went through this whole mess of installation! Now, I have only 26 days left to activate and I have no idea in the world what to do! I typed in how to install and your site came up–thank goodness!However, I am not Lingo Literate yet, so can you please talk me through this process in plain terms. I have a Toshiba M35X-S1142 notebook, and the scary part, it does not belong to me and I have to give it back soon! Is it possible to reverse and uninstall this, because I heard that Windows explorer 8 is too difficult to work with.
    Please help, any help will be dearly appreciated!

  41. This might be useful to somebody.I have an old legit.xp installation disk with product code.Microsoft will no longer activate it,but what I have found is that it will install and activate with no problems in Virtualbox.I’m running Linux Mint.

  42. I did the same exact thing you did but when I got to the welcome screen the activation window came up again and says it needs to be activated so I click yes and instead of the screen that normaly comes up that asks you if you want to connect to the internet the window says that windows is already activated so I restarted and the activation window still pops up. I am able to go into safe mode maybe there is something I can do from in there. please help me.

  43. thank you so much. Your information was fantastic and was so easy to use even for me. After been on the phone to them i still had no idea what was wrong until you explained it. after 12 hrs trying myself i am up and running after an hour of finding your site. Thanks again your amazing

  44. Wow, THANK YOU! I had a similar situation. Recently I had to replace my MoBo and PSU. Due to the significant hardware profile change, Windows wanted me to re-activate, so I tried…unfortunately as it was a new mobo the drivers for the onboard NIC weren’t installed yet. So I couldn’t activate over the internet, and I couldn’t get into Windows (actually it’s really that I didn’t know the whole Safe Mode work around) to install the drivers so I could get on the internet. My experiences with tech calls have filled me the cynical apprehension that a 10 minute solution will take an hour or more to implement. Luckily I found this awesome article. I booted up into safe mode, no network support, then went into the system properties found the ugly yellow question marked hardware and loaded the drivers. Reboot into normal mode and *BAM* re-activation, ready to go. Again, THANK YOU!

    BTW – I have a dual boot system. Ubuntu had no problem with the hardware. That’s how I managed to get on the internet and find your article.

  45. I don’t know how i ended up here…but if anyone can help me great..I bought a second hand computer that I thought was going to be fine…upon starting the computer message pops up. I do not have a startup menu….It’s my understanding from the person I bought the computer from had the system cleaned out…the IT person installed or used vista ………. and now I cannot use the windows xp that was installed on the computer. It’s recognizing vista as the operating system i believe. I am so computer stupid when it comes to the technical part of them…I have tried to validate with no success…it prompts me to activate from the startup menu and I can’t get there…I have no idea what to do. Can anyone help me as I am totally clueless…Thanks

  46. 5 Step to acivate
    1)Change product Key(user different)
    2)click on Back
    3)Click log me off
    4)Click on administrator icon
    5)It will direct you to home and then activate your windows

  47. Your problems are almost identical to mines. And everything you said made me shake my head in agreement. I did not call support but here is my problem. I do not get an option to go into

  48. I had this problem yesterday on a PC at work. When I installed XP Pro using an SP2 disc, I got the fail activation screen, where I can’t log into windows unless it’s safe mode. Used the SP3 disc, tried installing again, and all was good :)

  49. Am running into a similar issue, except, I found out safe mode with networking wont let you log in for the same reason. Will try just safe mode in a moment….

  50. I read this article with great interest as , like you I’d never seen this before. In my case I initially used a a Windows retail disk., which I’d never had problems with. As my network card was fine but other devices were not I downloaded a oem version which installed no problem. I’m not sure if this throws a spanner in the works of your theory enntirely as Windows retail disks should’nt have a problem. Anyway I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that had this problem.
    Regards, Kieron

  51. Hello,

    I know that this is an old thread but it appears to still be active. in case someone is still having problems with activation here is what you should do:

    1. boot into VGA mode (restart the computer and keep pressing F8 key; when the “Advanced boot menu” shows up you should select “Enable VGA Mode” (or Enable Low-Resolution Video). In the VGA Mode you should try to activate Windows XP again.

    2. In case that you cannot activate Windows XP in VGA Mode you should download Service Pack 3 (on another computer) for Windows XP from the link below:

    Windows XP Service Pack 3 Network Installation Package for IT Professionals and Developers

    After the download you should boot into Safe Mode and install the SP3. When the installation is complete just reboot the computer and activate Windows XP via Internet or Telephone – whatever works for you. You will definetly get the installation ID.

    In case someone is wondering why this happens:
    Installation ID is generated from your Windows XP version, product key and some random piece of your computer’s hardware (this also means that chaning the hardware will sometimes deactivate Windows XP). Windows XP before SP3 had only a few integrated drivers so this means that the “vital” piece of hardware is not recognized, therefore Installation ID cannot be generated.

    Hope this help (and I’m sorry if someone else already posted this; I haven’t really gone through all posts before posting this)

    Cheers, Mjav

  52. So which product key did you end up using the one from the laptop or the new one?

    The reason I ask is because I to was going to do the same thing only difference is I was going to use my OEM system builder version of XP Home so I can reformat my dell laptop and use the product key from my laptop (the laptop came with XP home). Would this work? Been seeing mixed answers when searching the topic.

  53. I tried all the above but it won’t let me download SP1a or SP3(because I need at least SP1)

    I have no idea what else to do.

  54. Just had the same problem working on a clients computer.

    I used an old security hole in XP to bypass the activation system long enough to install my drivers.

    Good old M$ and their horrible security.

  55. Parts of the comments here relate the the problem I’m having with my wife’s computer. She’s been running a legit copy of WinXP for close to 3 years now with no problem. For whatever reason, I had not activated its “Automatic Updates” so I did so about two months ago. This installed, among other things, WinXP’s SP3. That seems to be when the probems began.

    She doesn’t reboot very often, which is just fine with me — I don’t, either. But, when she did a couple of weeks ago (of course, while I wasn’t at home), she got the message that she had 3 days to activate Windows. She called me and asked what to do; I told her to go ahead and tell it to activate. When she did, it told her that she was already activated, then all seemed well.

    Until I had to reboot her computer just before Christmas. After the reboot, the same message about activating Windows appears. I told it to activate, and it told me that things were already activated. But then, it logged out of the boot process.

    Now, I’m locked into the Activate Windows XP Loop. I’ve tried just about every option I’ve seen on-line, with no success. I’ve reinstalled her copy of Windows as a Repair installation; then, reading about problems people were having with network drivers, I slipstreamed her disk into an SP3-enabled installation disk. Still no luck.

    I’ve got no ideas now what to do. I’m so desperate to fix this problem that I’m just about ready to back up the registry and to give it a fresh install of Windows XP, only to apply the old registry to the new registry (not certain if this will work to recover all of the installed program information that she’s got on her computer, but hoping).

    Any suggestions, anyone? I could really use some help here!


    If there’s a phone number to call to activate, as there was in my scenario, call it.

    In your shoes I’d be really tempted to do a clean install – no registry copying, that path would only lead to more problems – I’m talking backup, reformat and reinstall.


  56. I agree with J. Kap. And by the way, OEM and Retail products keys/media are not interchangeable. In other words, you cannot use a RETAIL XP disc and expect an OEM product key to work. That’s just not the way it goes.

  57. My laptop’s motherboard died and I was informed by HP that I would have to pay $258 before they would send my an RMA as my Presario V6000 was out of warranty. I removed the hard drive and installed it in the new system that I decided to build. It has only that hard drive, a Zotac GF8100 C-E motherboard,AMD II x2 215 CPU,and 4GB of ram installed. No Internet,floppy,DVD,or CD yet.
    I got the “Activation Required” screen.
    The laptop did not come with a CD and the License Key on the laptop’s sticker is apparently not good, (as per my attempted phone activation).
    Any suggestions would be received thankfully.

  58. Hi Leo, about the missing installation ID. After reading your story, it pop up in my mind why the number is missing. Since you had no Network card installed. Something was missing to finalise the equation that creates the installation ID number. The Installation ID Number is in fact the sum of all the hardware of the PC, which giving it a unique finger print for the activation combine with the Prod Key. That was originaly to prevent transfert of license number. And that way a Prod Key can not be used on two different PC. I’m suprised to see that even Microsoft forgot that security feature they created LOL And I think that it will only plague pre-SP1 version of XP. A friend ask me to solve the same problem today !

  59. I need to activate my wondows Xp but the numbers for the South Africa call centre does not work. Who do I call now?

  60. Thank you for posting your adventure. I ran into exactly the same situation today. I was installing XP Pro to an Eeebox from USB HD. I followed your steps by installing drivers via Safe Mode, then activated over the Internet.

    I do not know why this happened. I am quite sure that I have the correct media. All my years and I still can’t say I’ve seen everything.


  61. Windows XP Profesional Edition has updated on my computer and now i can’t log on as i do not know mu user name or password

  62. Running into a similar issue. Confirmed that the network adapter drivers are properly instlled, but with the complication that my winsock/tcpip stack was corrupted. Have resolved this issue, but activation is still not completing. Oh the joys of repeated reboots!

  63. Thanks for the well written story. The amount of time I spend on things I categorize under “stupid microsoft” is just way to long

  64. I am having the same exact problem.
    I am trying your advice now but not sure exactly what network drivers i need to find and install. I have Dell Inspirion E1705 with windows xp pro media edition.

    Thank you!!!

  65. Just had the same problem: completetly out of the blue (screen of death) with a 4year old XP installation (WGA OK etc)and no harware changes for 24 months. Just sorted myself out and so can type this. Phone folks were really clueless, after an hour of onward referrals I was back at the start.
    I BET: the users of pirated XP don’t get this aggravation, there are lots of WGA work-arounds out there for sure. So the end result is that the genuine customer gets the pain and the pirates get the pleasure. Maybe I need a MAC.

  66. I have a similar problem for a different reason.

    I just picked up the “Xp internet security” malware bug. My ad-aware got rid of it, but when the system re-starts i get the “you must activate screen”.

    I think that the malware has buggered up my internet connection, but i can’t see what’s wrong. The router is recognised by the computer, but i can’t get it to “see” the internet.

  67. My problem – Dell again – I have had XP pro working happily for several years on a Dell Inspirion 8600, but suddenly IE became corrupt and hung the machine. I could not reinstall it because one of the attempts to install it had left a ‘you need to restart to complete’ dialog which pooped up every 5 minutes and which prevented any other windows install and prevented automatic update. [of course, restart did not clear it] so I decided to ‘repair’ Windows XP using the original product disk.
    Now I have a “copy of windows that does not pass genuine windows validation” – why in the name of all the little apples is this the case?

    Also, what executable do I need to activate “Windows activation” – it isn’t in the Accessories-System-Tolls menu?

  68. I had a similar issue with XP Pro. However, it’s a custom build, but still using an oem product key. I ended up calling Microsoft, we changed the product key, and it still was blank. After a reboot, I was able to get into Windows and activate like normal.

    With an OEM License, you need to use and OEM Disk. Not a regular retail disk. It typically will error and tell you the product key is wrong.

  69. I am having a nearly identical issue with a couple of exceptions. I had a system with a “built-in” windows key that was automatically filled in without my input. this was originally a Vista machine that I formatted and re-installed an OEM (legal) copy of XP pro. After a bit of trouble, I was able to activate it yesterday just fine (I had to manually change the activation key that the system originally tried to enter with my new OEM key). I downloaded 82 updates and re-started the system, I received the cannot login without activating. Since I had completed the activation process less than 24 hours previous I was a bit annoyed. The entire first half of the article mimics my experience until the phone call. I am at the 40 minute mark and talking with my 3rd person as well, same as above. He instantly went straight into the new product key and placed on hold. When he returned, we went into the register product and suddenly (without changin keys) I had an activation number displayed, but no phone numbers to call. The fields were there but they were blank. We agreed to just activate with the given numbers. After I typed in the numbers from the rep, it stated we were good! Not so. When I clicked OK, I was sent to the login screen with a nifty logo in the bottom right corner displaying the XP was not activate. I log in and immediately get the notice that the product is not active, would you like to activate now. I click on yes, a new window pops up stating the software is already active. I click OK and it returns me to the login screen. I am now in a loop. Safe mode will no longer bypass this (I tried). Tech is now having me “repair” this installation. 59 minutes into the phone call. On 3rd attempt to repair, my own fault. Hit the wrong option. Currently waiting for the re-install/repair to complete. I was given a prompt for the product key and used the one provided by the help tech, not the one I purchased. It accepted it and continued with the install. Install completed, re-booted and now locked up with the XP logo and “Please wait…” for the last 5 minutes. This screen is about 50% the size it should be. 1 hour 36 minutes now. he just asked if there were any important files on this computer i was concerned about… now at 2 hours 3 minutes. Back in windows, cannot activate it, cannot even see activation window. IE has limited functions, cannot use address, only search and links. Cannot download any files.
    All these issues started after installin the Microsoft Genuine Advantage Notifier and KB905474. In the lower right hand corner is a list of reasone and links to why validation failed. Followed those to a “Beta” online validation tool that was able to validate my product. The beta program fixed the problem. Scary. Now i am dealing with a known issue with IE7 as that was the dafualt browser installed and blocking me from most internet issues. After about 10 minutes the autoupdate feature kicked in and is installing security updates (even though I was blocked from doing it manually. Currently on the phone for 2 hours and 29 minutes. Looks like this will get fixed.

  70. Summary: Re-installing XP with SP2. If you update, do NOT install the WGA programs as they are not compatible with SP2. Go straight to SP3 and other security updates firt.

    If you get the error I did, click on the star shaped icon in the bottom right hand side and select the online option for “Activation error” here you will find a link to a MS Beta site, yes, Beta sight that has you re-install WGA, and will validate your install within the web-page itself, not a seperate program. Even the tech I talked to was not familiar with this new Beta site. But it worked!

  71. Re my problem – I am getting permanent “you need to restart to complete an update” which is not satisfied by restarting
    Other symptoms include AutoUpdate spending hours downloading but never installing – so I have had to turn it off – that at least prevents the continued “you need to restart” dialogs

    So to further symptoms

    1. I ‘repaired’ my windows using the original (SP1) disk – at least I now have some version of IE to work with – but still the repeating “you need to restart” dialog

    2. Attempts to hand update via the microsoft site are blocked because I have an incomplete update and need to restart

    3. downloaded SP2 and installed it OK

    4 Downloaded SP3 but after unpacking and backing up (30 minutes) it tells me that I need to restart and then backs out (without deleting the !GB worth of files in the temporary directory)

    5. No other program that requires the use of Windows install will proceed. Windows own stuff like IE follows a similar pattern – spends time unpacking stuff and then says “you need to restart to complete a previous update” and backs out. Other people’s installs (well at least 3 different ones) are brighter, they immediately say that another process has a file locked which prevents the install

    All this time (now in excess of 6 weeks) I have been in contact with MS – (via email because although you guys in the USA can get free support for installation issues, it isn’t free over here in UK and I can’t ring your 0800 numbers from here) so struggling on… I suspect I may have to clean install windows via FDDISK but I have lots of software for which I no longer have the installs and I can’t afford to buy them all again

    It is interesting that other people’s installs talk about “a locked file: So if anyone can tell me how to remove locks on all files then maybe that is the way to go.
    Any suggestions welcomed

  72. i just finished installing windows xp HE, and went ahead with activation. I checked for the porduct key underneath the laptop,entered it. when i tried to actiovate, i receive this kind of msg: UNABLE TO ESTABLISH A CONNECTION WITH THE ACTIVATION SERVER. PLEASE CHECK YOUR NETWORK SETTINGS AND CONFIRM THAT YOU ARE ABLE TO CONNECT TO THE INTERNET, THEN TRY AGAIN.

    This is thee kind of msg i get, yet iam able to connect and browse the internet with the same laptop, what connection do in need to do?

  73. Finally resolved my problem after hours with MS Support and EasyAssist – just delete a registry entry

    but an amusing interlude… refresh: my problem was that the microsoft installer demanded a restart to complete an update which was not satisfied by a restart. It also meant that nothing would either install or uninstall because ‘ you need to complete a previous update by restarting your machine ‘ == guess what? Easy Assist is installed using the installer — or in my case, not installed.
    This is a fundamental error in logic. A support system designed to repair a faulty system that relies on the system working before it can be used

  74. Hi, I enjoyed reading this article but it didn’t solve my issue which was different (to Leo’s credit).

    I upgraded my VGA card from the Ati4850HD to AtiAX5770, and then when booting back into Windows XP after updating the drivers, I got the ‘windows is not activated’ issue!
    I tried Leo’s method in safe mode but had to reboot, to no avail, also in ‘safe mode with networking’ which wouldn’t let me log on without activating first.

    I was considering putting the 4850 back in, but I solved the issue by just activating over the phone, which worked for me this time.

    Some great articles here, keep up the good work!

    London, UK

  75. My computer hard drive had to be replaced. And after the tech guy returned my computer. It worked wonderfully.
    Till I started receiving that ominous notice that I had so many days to register windows.
    When I tried, it said my copy was illegal and that I had to buy a legal copy of xp.
    I paid by visa the price, and tried to load it, and it failed. Microsoft tech support and other depts tried and tried to help me for around 2 hours. Then they said, they did not recognize my copy of windows I bought from them. So I canceled the transaction. Now I am down to only 3 days till time to activate, or my computer dies. I guess. I am so angry, I feel like just letting it time out. As I’ve wasted so much time on this thing. The man who installed this copy promises to fix it, but has never showed. I don’t know what to do. About to loose my computer. TJR

  76. I have refurbished hundreds of PCs in the last few years and this is the first time I have experienced this exact same problem. I have used the one OEM XP CD with SP2A for all installations on all types of machines: Dell, HP, Acer, new builds, without any problems, so this problem was unusual. I always install XP followed by SP3, then the drivers and then activation. XP itself rarely installs all drivers so I couldn’t see that this was a driver problem. I tried the suggestions put forward. I could get into XP in safe mode so tried installing the LAN driver to no effect. Stuck in a WLAN card I had lying around on the bench, did a fresh install with exactly the same result- a message indicating that activation was required before getting in to Windows but no installation id could be generated. I then did an update to SP3 while in safe mode and on rebooting all was well. Installed the drivers and a few programs and activated by phone without any problems. Looks like this problem is a bug in XP which is fixed by updating to SP3. There are a few different solutions and a number might need to be tried before success.

  77. SO i rebooted my computer, and now when i log on. a message pops up and says that the windows needs re activated. then it says do you want to activate now, yes or no? so i clicked yes, and nothing popped up. so i turnd it off then back on, and this time i clicked no, and it logged me off. what should i do?

  78. Excellent, so easy but still so hard to figure out.
    I did a repair and added a new key and hoped it would add the NIC driver… then I did safe boot on first restart and it messed up startup files. Did another repair and then let the restart boot normally and then go into safe mode and add the driver from a USB stick and then it activated.. thanks a lot for this article.

  79. Hi, an minute ago I was playing a game and it froze. I realized I could not alt+tab or alt+ctrl+del to delete the game process. So, i reset my pc and it seemed to work fine until I got this message to activate my windows. So I clicked yes and it give me three options. I chose the one to activate over the internet. But it gave an error message that I had connectivity problems to log in the internet. One thing, i dont use a internet cable. I use a wireless USB to connect to to my modem. I tried reconnecting it or reseting the modem but the problem was still there. I did what you said, go in safe mode because the windows wont ask u for an activation. But I still couldnt access the internet from there either. The usb was suppose to read upon starting up and now it cant. I couldnt update the drivers for it.

  80. I did a Windows Repair on a Dell Precision 380 at a client site, and now when it starts there’s the little wga notification that says I must activate Windows. That’s fine, it’s a legit copy with a real key. BUT, if I tell it ‘Yes’, there’s an hourglass for a second and then nothing. The mouse cursor stays, but nothing else happens even if I press ‘crtl-alt-del’. If I click ‘No’ it logs me off, of course. I can get into safe mode without networking, and I have checked to make sure the drivers are present. I’ve made sure the cable is plugged in. I’ve tried doing the repair again with different disks, but nothing seems to work. Any help or clues would be greatly appreciated…

  81. a combination of network drivers and sp3 update while in safe mode sorted my problem out.
    i rebooted and activated by internet

  82. i’ve just re-installed windows xp cos i didn’t like windows 7 and entered the wrong key. it will ot let me enter the right key and keeps saying, this is not a genuine copy of windows.. how do i enter the right key and get out of this mess?

  83. Great tip. I actually tried what you did but had no luck, which was a function of the drivers i had available to me, not your good idea :)

    The way i found around it was quite ingenious:
    Pre-lan install, when the activation screen came up, i hit Winkey+U for the Accessibility helper. This window had a link to the MS website that, if you clicked, brought up IE. Once IE was up, i just had to “navigate” to my cdrom and run the MSI installer for my network driver.

    Thanks for the inspiration though :) Now i’m all activated and happy as a clam!

  84. I just had this issue with a HP Netbook. These don’t come with a CD at all, so you are out of luck when you need to reinstall, or call HP and order a CD….which still wont help you that much as the damned thing doesnt have a CD Drive….

    Dropping to safe mode wouldn’t work because the “drivers’ like so many these days are actual programs, not a simple driver file.

    I Actually had to resort to running a well known pirate crack on the software to be able get to the desktop, install all the drivers, let all the service packs install, let WGA tell me it was a pirate verison, THEN I was able to set the product key and activate it properly.

    Its a sad state when you have to resort to the dark side to do things that are perfectly legimate.

  85. Glad I found your fix, I had the exact same scenario with a Dell Inspirion 8600 a neighbor brought me and asked me to finish off the XP install that had him stumped at the activation screen.

  86. I had exactly this problem and used the post to help resolve it. I was trying to reinstall windows on a newly acquired Samsung N130 (no internal optical drive) from a bootable usb stick and it would not activate, giving blanks where the activation id was supposed to be.

    After installing the network drivers as advised in the article I was able to connect to the internet and it gave me the message that it had activated. However, it then returned to the message that I needed to activate windows! At this point it did give me an activation id, which I used to activate windows over the telephone. All seemed to be going ok but when I tried to log on to an account (owner or administrator were the defaults presented) it told me again that I needed to activate windows! However, this time, when I clicked yes to activate, it came back with the message that windows was already activated. It then presented me with the default accounts again to log on! I tried this a few times but got no further and gave up as it would clearly have gone on indefinitely.

    On suggestion from a colleague who is very switched on regarding IT, I went back into safe mode and then installed SP3. This cleared all of the problems and I now have a fully functioning netbook. It may not cure everyone’s problem but it could be worth trying as a last resort!

  87. When I start the computer, windows xp boots just fine, but when I click on my icon (or any icon) in the welcome window, I get the message that a problem has occurred that prevents Microsoft from correctly validating windows xp, do I want to activate windows now? When I click yes (or no) it goes to my desk top picture, but without the start button (or any icons) and just stays there. The internet connection seems fine and I’ve tried the computer on other lines which work with different computers, with the same result. So I can’t activate
    windows over the internet, or by phone since I don’t have the number to call. There was no warning that this was going to happen. The computer was working fine the day before. The first message I got when I first had the problem said something about major hardware changes having taken place since the original activation (at least 2 years ago). There haven’t been any hardware changes in over a year, except for external hard drives that I sometimes add, but these were not on at the time. I guess I can take it back to where I bought it and let them sort it out, but I would really like to be able to complain to Microsoft and sort the problem myself.
    So I guess what I need to know is how do I contact Microsoft?

  88. Fascinating. Well-written. And well lived, too.

    I have a similar case – your article unquestionably helped with it a bit.
    Windows XP (SP3). Legal licensed installation, on a Toshiba. One a ‘spare’ hard disk… two copies of Windows, both licensed etc. and activate, that I swapped into the machine alternately for various uses.
    The Toshiba dies. I get a new one – with exactly the same CPU, so I don’t have to reinstall/reformat anything. Sure enough, this XP SP3 disk goes in the new laptop (a Dell), works, boots up… but asks whether I would like to activate, after I log in, and gives me *3* days, not 30.
    And it shows no ‘Installation ID’. For the reasonas, undoubtedly, you have detailed. (Drivers for individual hardware incl. network, not yet installed.)

    In a case like this, standard procedure would be to get the drivers for the laptop into the Windows install, first, *then* activate. And that’s what I’m doing now.

    Thanks again. (I thought this worth mention, since it’s a swapped-in disk, not natively installed, with same CPU chip but different other hardware, and previously activated etc. in other hardware. And 3 days for activation seems new.)

    Mr. Hess

  89. THANK YOU!!! I was pulling my hair out with my nephew’s netbook. The hoops I had to jump through just to get XP reinstalled after a boot sector virus were unbelievable and then the activation problem. I did get the drivers from the Dell website, however I couldn’t activate because the “activation period had expired”. Thankfully…the ID number is no longer blank so I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to work out the phone activation…wish me luck!

  90. Thanks for going the extra mile and relying on you instincts to get to the root of the problem. I spoke to IT professional of 10 years that I really trust, that told me, it sounds like the memory on the PC is going and that’s why it wont install. I bought a new PC and exactly the same happened. I thought that I was finished. Then I found your article. Amazingly — It worked!!

  91. You should pay a visit to help desk center if you have a chance. Typically filled with fresh graduates, and how they cope with the job is by looking at a manual on their help desk. Very often, they are just spouting answers from their manual. Dig deeper, and they will be lost.

  92. Thank you. I wasn’t getting an installation id either. My Ethernet driver was installed, but not the wireless. After installing the wireless driver it worked right away. Thanks for that tip.

    My key still didn’t work, and ended up that what I thought were “0” was a “Q” and in another case a faded “J” also looked like “O” the microsoft technician helpfully explained there are now vowels (aeiou) or the number 0 in the code. So that he helped me figure out my code. So that is just an FYI if it helps someone else.

  93. I have this issue and after work tomorrow I will be trying what you offered today, but I can say, I have an old XP PRO SP1 like you. Here is where it is weird. My disc worked fine on a Dell desktop, but my eMachine DT has this issue. No doubt, I would have wasted the same amount of time as you if I hadn’t been cut off by my phone and decided to see if I could research other people’s experiences with the same problem. The computer that worked also had no available drivers for hooking to the internet like me, but it liked her so it worked better. Thanks for sharing your experience. It is a big help. Another thing, her network drivers couldn’t be installed with hooking up to the network. I wonder if there is a link there.

  94. My problem was that I updated the BIOS and when I rebooted into XP I got the need to re-activate, and like Leo no internet connection yet so I figured I would go with remind me later. Got into XP wireless started working and figured might as well do this now, so an internet search for the procedures tuned up two quick ways, Start – All Programs – Accessories -System Tools then click activate The problem is there was no icon for activate, so back to the Internet and came up with right click My Computer and click on activate, again no option to activate. At this point I was about to use the phone, (I hate this method) when I thought one more search and looked for a command line sure enough I found it, Run command “oobe/msoobe /a” (no quotes”) and I got the Activation wizard to run then it was like magic my machine is activated.


  95. It’s sad to hear that you’re microsoft customer service experience was like that. In fact this problem has something to do with the network card or what we call NIC (Network Interface Card). It goes like this so for other readers to know. Windows activation takes information from the machine those information were the machine ID’s. To have the machine ID. You should have a driver installed on a specific device specially the NIC. Once you have that setup or just install the driver for NIC You’ll have the installation ID when you try phone activation. There is also a command to extend the 30 days grace period that you need to type in in safemode.

  96. My situation also a bit bizarre! Have a old Dell Dimension 3100 which has monitor with built in USB hub. Monitor packed up and when I plugged keyboard & mouse direct into base unit they didn’t work when i went into Windows (XP media Center Edition). Dell don’t supply a windows disk and calls to Microsoft & Dell both wanted mega bucks to help. I found an XP Pro disk and did a recovery using that – worked fine until final reboot and, guess what . . . got the Can’t log on till activated!! Just gonna try the above suggestions. I’ve been in support for many years and this sort of situation really bugs me big time. They have you over a barrel and it should be illegal for them not to supply the wherewithal to fix the problem yourself – tantamount to blackmail!! Thanks for the advice.

  97. OK, seems I’m unique here – booting into Safe Mode doesn’t allow me to log in I get the “… need to Activate…” message in Safe Mode too! Any suggestions anyone??

  98. Yep got this several times during the last 10 years or so Fixed like Leo said.But i have a gripe about Manufacturers Not supplying Windows Restore DVDs Thought it was law that install dvds or cds had to be supplied Regards To You Leo

  99. i have reistall windows xp but when i go to active it it say i have got a copy of window xp but i have got it from a computer shop with the code stick on it put it will not let me

  100. Hi, Leo, newbie here. I just read your article regarding Windows XP frustrating activation. Thank you! I am resurrecting an OLD Intel Pentium 4 PC with a legal copy of OS. I was able to boot up in Safe Mode per your help. I do not have the disk nor the key lost them ages ago I downloaded needed drivers to my Vaio and transferred them to USB flashdrive. When I

  101. Hi, I read your article. To continue, using usb flashdrive to download updated drivers, but I cannot get past Windows Install inactive issue. I also had your problem of zero connectivity. HELP

  102. Thanks For that Leo However i have Used Activate by phone with no connectivity to net But it did recognise the Network card and gave me activation number,But you are correct Microsoft Tech support really do not have a clue when this happens,There is a work round if you have a Usb wireless dongle and drivers for same it happily activates once it accepts install key Regards Martin

  103. My friend had the same type of scenario with his laptop connection to the Net and afyter countless hours on ther phone to his ISP they could not figure out his problem and told him to buy a new PC .. he contacted me.. I came out tried the same scenario(s) as he had tried.. and then decided to boot into safemode and do a chkdsk and voila It worked his network problwems were solved and fixed to this day .. Total time foir me to arrive / diagnose/ fix .. about 30 minutes .

  104. Hi Leo

    Thank you for this article. I had the same problem, although with a further twist after I had recovered the activation ID as you describe.

    Activation appeared to work, but the same ‘you must activate before you log in message’ returned, and when I tried to humour it and reactivate, it said it was already activated!

    I’ve been in and out of Safe Mode all weekend wrestling with this, printing out screeds of ‘help’ from MS’s support side, and entering more command line stuff than I have for years. None of it worked, but then I read the suggestion that I download the standalone version of SP3, put it onto a CD and run it in Safe Mode. This took forever (longer than the whole XP install) but it worked. Now, why couldn’t MS have mentioned that as a possible solution..?

  105. Thank you for this article, Mr. Notenboom. I`ve done everithing like you mentioned in your article and i activated windows. (PS. sorry about my bad english)

  106. Hi,
    I have the same problem (Not got the original Dell CD) but when using another WXP installation disk the activation with the nine six digit numbers did not work. Just said you may be subject of counterfeiting. Tried Dell and they cannot help. Have not found a technical number for Microsoft in the UK yet but I will and see what happens. I don’t have the key for the CD installation. Still got 30 days!!!

  107. Install Service Pack 3 in Safe Mode – download onto flash drive from another computer and then use flash drive on the computer you want to activate.

    When it asks if you’d like to go ahead (some babble about might not work) – say yes. Takes a while so be patient.

    Restart Windows – you will get in – reactivation nag is now in System Tray. You should also have an Activation ID now.

    It worked for me.

  108. Leo said he needs to use a different key. He needs use the OEM key from Dell. It should be on the machine itself. Some Dell systems use a special restore partition, which might of be deleted when he put Linux on the system. The original key should work. It is possible the OEM key from dell got compromised and could be on the blacklist. Once, xpsp 3 support totally ends. This problem should go away, because Microsoft is suppose to issue a patch to by-pass the activation requirement(s).

  109. I think I know the solution for the problem of the non-apprearing computer ID:

    A weak CR2032 battery (= the flat round one that is on the motherboard).

    If that battery is weak then some mobo features get turned on and off intermittently (even while Windows runs) and hence
    1) Windows complains about activating again (since mobo features changed)
    2) cannot calculate the ID

    Simply replace your mainboard battery. This is how I fixed it.

  110. New disk in old PC. Used original install disk and key from label. Initially did not show “Installation ID”. Followed your advice – safe mode – install network driver – reboot – GUI does not activate online (can’t find activation server) but now shows an “Installation ID” – I telephone the MS activation number and key in the code it provides – GUI says activated OK. Then asks me to log in again – prompts again for activation – GUI shows activated OK – can’t get out of this loop ….!!!!!

  111. Had a similar issue except we configure the network to a private manual IP address. Unfortunately the person didn’t activate Windows.

    After 30 days Windows won’t let you log in to reconfigure the network to the default. So no activation.

    I’m hoping by reinstalling the drivers this will reset the network settings to the default.

  112. this post was unnecessarily too long… 1)when reinstalling Windows XP you cannot use a retail version of XP on a OEM(Dell/HP etc) system, one should always try to use like-for-like i.e. XP-OEM-disc for Dell/HP etc & retail XP disc for anything else & XP Home/Professional versions should also match also; 2)in my/others experience Microsoft staff were; a)badly trained(re these issues) &; b)very rude & uncooperative &; c)always wanted me/others/users to pay/purchase & upgrade to Windows 8, even though most if these older PC/laptop systems do not meet the minimum system requirements for Win8 versions!!! Thank you very much for this article but it seems the problems is that the SAM;Default;System;Software files under Windows\System32\Config folder are often changed from previous installed version of XP when reinstalling/repairing XP &; there should be a way to disable/by-pass WGA(Windows Genuine Authentication) the oobee/wpa files? Anyone? Thanks. Dan

    • That really depends on what you want. Some like me do not like the OEM installs. Every laptop I ever bought was first wiped clean by reinstalling MY copy of windows and then selecting which drivers and software I wanted on my machine. All manufacturers make these drivers available for download. It depends on what you want and how capable you are.

  113. You should not have to be connected to the internet to enable your software. Any imposition on the user is wrong. I’ve been a computer engineer since the 70’s. My first computer had 2k of RAM. I bought an IBM PC in 1982, PC XT in 1984, an IBM PS/2 Model 80’s in 1987 (fourteen thousand dollars BTW). I was a beta tester for Windows version 1.0. I’ve owned every version of Windows since. I’ve seen every kind of device and procedure used to authenticate software to prevent software theft. Every one of them turned out to be annoying. I especially hated the dongles that had to hang off the serial port of your PC like early versions of AutoCad. Thankfully AutoCad quickly moved away from that dreaded device.

    Without exception, every method of authentication that I have seen in 30 years has been defeatable. Although I bought and paid for the AutoCad software I hated the dongle and I easily hacked the program to defeat it. It was way back then I realized that hackers had it easier than honest customers. I have a great dislike for any effort that encumbers me, a paying customer, for using software that I purchased.

    That brings us to my experience this past week. I decided to build a new PC as my old one was displaying some quirky lockups that I felt were hardware related somewhere in the motherboard or CPU. Probably from overclocking it a little harshly. So I bought new components to put in my old case. The old PC had been setup to dual-boot Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 8 Pro, both of which I have valid licenses for. I have multiple licenses for Windows 7, about 5 in total. I built the PC and reinstalled both operating systems, each on a separate SSD. I go to install Windows 8 from the very disk that Microsoft had me download when I upgraded one of my Windows 7 licenses in December 2012. I was holding in front of me a copy of the email from Microsoft with the activation key in it.

    I get about 90 seconds into the installation and it asks me for my license key, which I carefully type in. It tells me the key is not valid. I could not even BEGIN the installation. There was no phone number to call for help, or suggestion of any kind. I rebooted and tried again. I know I put the right code in. Again, this is the same code and DVD I got from Microsoft together. It is now 8pm and I am wanting to install that night. I ran out to Best Buy and bought a brand new copy of Windows 8.1 Pro for $211. I get home and it installs, but when I get up and running in Windows it still wants me to activate, so I decided to use my older activation key instead of the newer one. It fails and prompts me to call and activate over the phone. I call and try to activate and the automated system is completely senile and does not understand a word I say and if a stray sound in the background gets to your phone it completely throws it for a loop. I swear it is some kind of joke by Microsoft specifically designed to piss off customers. I am pretty aggravated at this point and I start speaking gibberish to the thing since it didn’t understand me anyway. A born American I speak very clear English BTW with no discernible accent. The gibberish now frustrates the automated guy and he puts me through to a real person. I give the very nice and polite representative a warning, an apology, and then a piece of my mind regarding the process. He remains very nice and calm and after a little checking he tells me my old Windows 8 key is valid….. DUH!!! He offers this information to me as if I had just won the lottery. He proceeds to give me an activation number. He apologizes for the trouble and we part ways.

    Next I go to install the Windows 7 drive. This goes a little more smoothly…. at first. I did not have to put in a key to install initially, but when I got up and running I decided to activate immediately. It tells me my key is not valid and prompts me to go through the phone activation. OMG. I go through the same aggravating process with the idiot automated system and gibberish my way to a real person. This guy takes a while to check my key. I am holding the Windows 7 Ultimate package in my hand with the nice holographic sticker containing my key. It still has the $199 price tag on it. He proceeds to tell me that my key is suspicious as it has been activated 14 times. I told him I am a computer engineer who works for IBM and that I rebuild my PC’s quite regularly, and that 14 is not an unrealistic number. I also told him it did not matter how many times I used it as I owned that license and if I wanted to install it a thousand times it was my prerogative as long as I did not violate the terms of the license. I offered to send him a photo of me holding the box with pretty sticker and me flipping the bird as proof I owned it. He hemmed and hawed for a minute and then seeming as if he was doing me a favor he proclaimed that I could, in fact, activate my installation. Gee, thank you lord Microsoft.

    All was working, but with a few quirks for about two days. On the third morning I booted to the Windows 7 drive and my Windows came up with a black screen and a message in the bottom right corner stating “This copy of Windows is not Genuine”. REALLY??? I installed it from the holographic Microsoft CD with the pretty holographic label that had just been activated by Microsoft. in the middle of the screen a window popped up that among other things read “You may be a victim of software counterfeiting. . . . Go online and resolve now”
    Well I clicked on the “go online” message and it refuses to let me activate. No activation key is displayed and no place to enter a code. No support number. No anything. The system screen just says it’s not activated and to get a “genuine” copy. I check my phone and find the number I called a few days earlier and ring them back. Now I gibberish from the very start and I got person rather quickly. He hears me out and offers no help. He seems stumped, which is kind of surprising considering this is what he does for a living. I mean how many possible scenarios can his job entail? He finally says he will put me through to tech support. About 20 minutes in at this point. Another 5 minutes later I get the tech support guy on the phone and I first apologize and tell him it was not personal and I proceed to give him an ear full to carry back to his bosses. He tells me he has to remotely access my PC to fix it. About 30 more minutes goes by and he is rebooting my PC. It comes back up and he is still controlling it, which was creepy. He then gets it to now display the activation application and he types in the code and activates it. All told it was about 90 minutes wasted This was two days ago.

    Today I woke up and turned on the PC and it will not start. The motherboard locks with a code at the same point every time. I contact ASUS and they tell me it is a defective MB and I should replace it at the store. The local MicroCenter sold me the last one they had so I had to drive to Virginia to get another one. I get home and in the middle of installing it I get a call from my wife who is at Macy’s with my son and her debit card won’t go through. It took two hours to sort it out and it turned out Macy’s had a computer glitch causing multiple charges on the card that caused the bank to suspect something was up with the card and denied the sale(s). Two hours. Macy’s gave us a 40% discount for causing all the trouble. It’s been a rough week of idiotic wasted time and I was getting more furious and angry as I dealt with total ineptitude at my bank. Bank of America, BTW. I digress, but let me finish. I spent an hour on the phone with a representative who ended up telling me they could do nothing and my wife had to call another number to have the card reactivated. It took getting the Macy’s manager and my wife on the phone with the bank to finally allow the purchase. I finally get back to replacing the motherboard. I start it up in Windows 8 Pro. The first thing I see when I log in is a blue screen with a message saying “This copy of Windows is being used on another computer”. The only place to go from there was the activation screen again. Holy Crap! I had to call Microsoft, gibberish a little, and explain my motherboard issue. At least it went pretty smoothly this time. That’s when I found this page.

    I have yet to boot into my Windows 7 partition since the motherboard replacement. I dread the thought.

    I swear, I will never buy another copy of Windows as long as I live. It will be MUCH easier to install a pirated copy than to pay for it. I have a few pirated versions that I use on test equipment. It is much easier to go that route. I’ve wasted hours of my life for doing it the right way on my work PC’s. Microsoft has wasted many man hours on this. Is it worth it to anyone?

    I would swear this was all due to some recent policy change at Microsoft. I’ve built and repeatedly rebuilt my computer on the same license in the past and not had these issues. I pretty much used to rebuild my PC every few months and upgraded MB and CPU every 12-18 months. Sometimes I would do it ten times in a week while I was screwing around with technologies and testing them out. I have always believed that the folks who pirate software are wonderful advertisers for the software. The people who pirate are almost all in the business of computing. There is no way they can pay for everything they try out. They are the ones that people go for advice. They are the ones who suggest to others what to get. I know that I have been an incredible sales rep over the past thirty years. I have pirated a LOT of software. I did so mainly for the purposes of playing with and learning stuff. Every piece of software I did use on a regular basis I absolutely paid for.

    In the early nineties there was an epiphany by many of the software companies that I really though made sense. Many companies came around to the same logic I just described. They also realized that authentication schemes only served to alienate their customers. Like everything at Microsoft these days they are completely out of touch with reality and sensibility. They have really pissed off this customer.

    Time to go boot Windows 7 and likely steam some more.

  114. I once wondered why my Acer Windows XP CD installed (without WPA hassle) – then I found a file in c:\ called Two letters in this file, told me what was going on – RC (release candidate). LOL. Is it legal for a computer sold to a domestic market in New Zealand, to have a release candidate? I thought they were given to Beta Testers only.

    • I doubt if there are any laws concerning thing like that. The law in cases like that is usually “caveat emptor”, “let the buyer beware”.

  115. Was prompted to re-activate my Windows Server 2003 after a software update that did “serious changes to the hardware” and so required to re-activate. So I open up the activation window and as this computer is not connected to the Internet, I tried the phone method and was welcomed by a blank installation ID. I verified my key, everything looked to be fine, but I couldn’t get it to budge.

    So, I thought, lets try it on the internet method, without being connected to the internet and it obviously failed… but then I went back to the phone activation and there was my installation ID! Activation was successful – no problems.

    Not very scientific but it worked. Hopefully this will help someone else too.

  116. That is why more and more people are keeping themselves safely away from Microsoft. It is not only because of Microsoft vaccination that is handicapping thousands and soon millions of children in Africa, but this is also just a sidewalk of Microsoft ‘character’. Microsoft is an open door for hackers (some employed by Microsoft itself, whether from India or somewhere else. I had some of those hackers hacking my computer six times. Still I have the same situation you pointed out in a laptop that I don’t want to go on the Internet…so I’ll called a technician to resolve this problem but for most of my writing I stick with Apple, the best of the best and as for Microsoft, there’s a day of Judgment and we are getting close to it :)

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