Most Microsoft products obtained through TechSoup require a product activation key or setup code to complete the installation process. These keys and codes ensure that the software has been received through legitimate means and is not installed on more computers than permitted.
This page provides an overview of activation keys and setup codes and how to obtain them. For more information, see Microsoft's Product Keys FAQ.
What Products Need Keys for Activation?
Not all products that are obtained from the VLSC need keys.
- Many server products have a setup code that is provided when you download the product through the VLSC (TechSoup no longer offers Microsoft physical installation media at checkout, but previously obtained media for certain server products might include setup codes on a printed label).
- Most license-only products, such as client access licenses, management licenses, and external connector licenses, do not require keys or codes for setup.
To look up your product and see if it requires an activation key or setup code, see Microsoft's Product Activation and Key Information page. (Products that do not appear in this page do not need keys or setup codes.)
Getting Product Keys from the VLSC
Before You Start
To find your product keys, you must either be the administrator or have permission to perform the Product Keys role. For more information, see Maintaining Your Account.
Viewing Product Keys
- Sign into the VLSC.
- Choose Downloads and Keys. Click the Key link to show the product key information for a particular product.
- You can copy individual keys from this list or click Export all keys: CSV to download a list of keys in CSV format (which can be opened with Excel).
Identifying and Using Product Keys
Some keys apply to several related products. For example, the key for an Office suite may apply to any individual application within that suite.
Not all products have product keys. For these products, the Product Keys field reads: "This product does not require a product key."
If you try a key and the installation does not work, it is possible that you chose the key for a different product or licensing ID, even though the name is similar. Try one of the other keys shown.
Types of Keys
Volume License Key (VLK)
Standard VLKs are provided for Microsoft Office suites and applications released prior to Office 2010 and for certain other Microsoft software.
To activate software with a VLK, enter the VLK obtained through the Volume Licensing website when prompted by the software to activate it. You can use the same VLK on multiple installations of the same software if you requested multiple licenses. For example, if your donation includes 10 copies of Office 2007 Standard, you can use the Office VLK to install that product on 10 separate computers.
Multiple Activation Key (MAK)
A MAK is a type of key that allows a predetermined number of activations, depending on the number of licenses an organization requests. For example, if your donation includes 10 copies of Windows 7, you can use the Windows 7 MAK to install that product on 10 separate computers.
MAKs can be activated in one of two ways:
- MAK independent activation: You use MAKs like standard VLKs for this type of activation. Each computer independently connects with Microsoft and must be activated, either over the Internet or by telephone.
- Proxy activation: For this type of activation, a computer acting as a MAK proxy gathers activation information from multiple computers on the network and then sends a centralized activation request on their behalf to Microsoft. MAK proxy activation is configured using the Volume Activation Management Tool.
Key Management Service (KMS) Key
A KMS host key is used to activate multiple computers on the same network via a single computer, known as the KMS host.
This model allows users with network experience to complete activations on their local network and eliminates the need for all computers except the host to connect to Microsoft for product activation. KMS does not require a dedicated computer and can be co-hosted on a computer that provides other services.
A KMS host key is used only to activate the KMS host with a Microsoft activation server. A KMS host key can activate six KMS hosts with 10 activations per host. Each host can activate an unlimited number of computers.
KMS requires a minimum number of computers (physical or virtual machines) in a network environment. These minimums are referred to as activation thresholds. The threshold is different for each type of product.
- For Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, or Windows Server 2012: at least five computers
- For Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8: at least 25 computers
- For Office 2010/2013, Visio 2010/2013, Project 2010/2013, or a combination of the three in the same year's version: at least five computers; for Office suites and applications, Microsoft recommends MAK activation if organizations have fewer than 50 computers
Note: In order to activate Windows 8 Enterprise through KMS or MAK activation with a Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 machine as the host, you will need to install a hotfix. Activating Office 2013 suites and applications through KMS or MAK activation with a Windows Server 2003 machine as the host is not supported.
Product Groups for MAK and KMS Keys
Activation keys in both the KMS and the MAK models apply to the following product groups rather than to individual products.
The Windows 8 activation keys work for both of these products.
- Windows 8 Enterprise
- Windows 8 Pro
The Windows 7 activation keys work for both of these products.
- Windows 7 Enterprise
- Windows 7 Professional
For KMS activations, the Office 2013 KMS host will activate all Office 2013 suites and applications, Project 2013, and Visio 2013.
- Office 2013 suites and applications
- Project 2013 Standard
- Project 2013 Professional
- Visio 2013 Standard
- Visio 2013 Professional
For KMS activations, the Office 2010 KMS host will activate all Office 2010 suites and applications, Project 2010, and Visio 2010.
- Office 2010 suites and applications
- Project 2010 Standard
- Project 2010 Professional
- Visio 2010 Standard
- Visio 2010 Professional
- Visio 2010 Premium
Windows Server 2012
The Windows Server 2012 keys work for both of these products.
- Windows Server 2012 Standard
- Windows Server 2012 Datacenter
Windows Server 2008
MAKs are directly associated with a single product group and can activate only the Windows editions within that specific product group. For example, the Windows Server 2008 Standard and Enterprise group must be used to activate Windows Server 2008 Standard or Windows Server 2008 Enterprise. A MAK for Windows Server 2008 Datacenter (group C MAK) will not work on these products, and a MAK for Windows 8 will not work with Windows 7.
KMS keys are hierarchical. Each edition belongs in a specific group. C ranks higher than B, which ranks higher than A. This hierarchy affects which key can be used on which edition of the product. The groups are:
- Windows Web Server 2008 and Windows HPC Server 2008
- Windows Server 2008 Standard and Windows Server 2008 Enterprise
- Windows Server 2008 Datacenter and Windows Server 2008 for Itanium-Based Systems
These product groups apply to both Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2.
For example, if you have licenses for the Windows Server 2008 Datacenter R2 and Standard R2 editions, you should install the KMS key associated with the Datacenter product (the group C key) on your KMS host. The host will then be able to activate computers with either Windows Server 2008 Datacenter R2 installed or Windows Server 2008 Standard R2.
Active Directory–Based Activation
On Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012 platforms, there is also a new Active Directory–based activation method. This allows you to activate Windows 8 or Office 2013 products through a connection to your domain. For more information, see Microsoft's Active Directory-Based Activation Overview.