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Activating Windows 8 is the process of allowing your computer to connect to Microsoft and verify that your computer is licensed to run their software. If you purchased a new computer with Windows 8 preinstalled, you’ll probably never have to worry about it. However if you’re like me and installing Windows 8 over an existing operating system it’s something you’ll have to do.
If Windows isn’t activated don’t worry: it’s going to let you know.
Activating Windows 8
Activating Windows 8 should not be difficult, and I’d wager for most of you it won’t be. You can access the Activation Windows feature by clicking Settings on your Charms Bar, clicking Change PC Settings at the bottom of the Settings Bar, and then clicking Activate Windows. If your computer has a valid product key installed all you should need to is click Activate. If that works for you great! Quit reading and go read a book or something.
If you receive a message that “Windows can’t activate right now” then read on. I might have the solution to your problem. Then again, I might not.
Troubleshooting Windows Activation
To quote Microsoft, “the goal of Windows 8 was to make the things you do every day as simple as possible, and make everything a complete pain your ass.” All right, Microsoft may not have actually said that but it’s written all over the Windows 8 interface! The Activate Windows screen is a fine example: activation failed, we’re given no troubleshooting information, and told to try again. Definition of insanity anyone?
We’ll have to look elsewhere for a hint as to why the update failed, so let’s jump over to the System screen. This used to be a right-click away but damned if I could find it without doing a search. Open the Charm Bar, click Search and type “computer”, then right-click Computer and choose Properties from the menu that appears at the bottom of your screen. The System screen is not a Metro app so it’s going to open on your Desktop.
At the bottom of the System screen you’ll see the Windows Activation heading and a link that says “View details of Windows Activation.” Click the link and then click the Activate button. Once again Windows will attempt to activate. If it succeeds awesome! If not, at least this interface provides you with some troubleshooting information.
Fixing DNS name does not exist (Error Code 0x8007232B)
This time when activation failed Windows found it in it’s heart to provide me with a description of the problem. If you receive the same problem that I did then read along. If not just do what I did: copy and paste the error code or error description into Google and go from there.
A quick search yielded this page at “SQL Joe’s Blog” (link no longer active) which explains that activation is failing because I have a KMS key installed. This makes sense for me since I did an upgrade install from Windows 7, and my Windows 7 installation was performed on our corporate network with a KMS server.
(If you’re wondering what the heck a KMS key and KMS server are, click here. If you’re at home and just want your computer to work, continue reading).
Changing Your Windows Product Key
The solution is to enter the right product key. If you bought your computer came with Windows 8 it should have a sticker on it somewhere with your product key. If you purchased a copy of Windows 8 it’s going to be on or somewhere inside the box. If you don’t have a valid product key, shame on you!
But what’s this? Windows doesn’t provide us with a field to enter a new product key, so we’re actually going to have to drop to the command line to solve this problem.
Go back to the Start screen (if you’re at your Desktop, just press the Windows button on your keyboard). Access the Charm Bar and click Search, then type cmd and you should see the Command Prompt application. Right click it and select Run As Administrator from the options at the bottom of the screen. If you don’t run the Command Prompt as an administrator, the next step will fail!
At the command prompt you will type the following command to change your product key, swapping out the imaginary key below with your own:
If your product key is correct Windows will tell you the product key was installed successfully, and you can go back and click Activate either through the Metro activation interface or the System dialog interface. If your product key is valid and you have a connection to the Internet Activation should be successful.
So what have we learned? The obvious answer is that we’ve learned that Microsoft has tried to make the easy things even easier and in the process made the hard things harder. Activating Windows turned out to be an adventure in exploring the over-simplified Metro interface, our Desktop, and even the command line. The less obvious lesson we can take away is that you should never do an Upgrade installation if you can avoid it. I know better and I did it anyway. Had I taken the time to do a fresh installation of Windows it never would have had the wrong product key installed and I never would have had to jump through so many hoops to fix the problem.