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I have a key; which lock does it fit?
December 8, 2009 3:54 PM   Subscribe

Is there a tool available that will tell me which version of Windows the product key on this sticker is for?

This second-hand laptop came with a completely erased hard drive (it looks DBAN'd). There's the remains of a Windows OEM sticker of some sort on the bottom. The 25-character product key itself is still perfectly legible, but the part of the sticker identifying the Windows version is ripped (looks like another label was put over it and then removed, taking half the Windows sticker with it).

I'd like to put Windows back on it, but the XP Home OEM installer I guessed at won't accept this product key. Before I go down the path of trial-installing every conceivable version of Windows one at a time, does anyone know of a tool (either online or downloadable) that will tell me which version my product key matches?
posted by flabdablet to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not aware of any tool that will distinguish between versions based on the code itself. (I suspect this sort of thing would be frowned on by Microsoft, as it would entail the same kind of reverse-engineering that a keygen would use -- not that this totally negates the possibility.) But maybe there's other ways to find out?

It might help if you could offer a picture of the sticker itself (obscuring the product key)? A google image search for "windows OEM sticker" may be fruitful as well -- although now that I'm looking through those, it seems like there's no consistency to it. I see different styles for the same OS, and the same style for different OS's.

Are there other numbers you can make out? This sticker for example seems to have the product SKU and other information as well.

Alternately, you might see if you can find the same model number of computer for sale online, either first- or second-hand. Maybe it will be obvious that they all came with the same OS version.

Good luck!
posted by churl at 4:58 PM on December 8, 2009


it would entail the same kind of reverse-engineering that a keygen would use

That's pretty much exactly what I'm hoping some enterprising coder has done :-)

Thanks for the alternative suggestions - will follow those up when next I see that laptop.
posted by flabdablet at 5:08 PM on December 8, 2009


Check your sticker against these.

If you don't have the install disks, all you have is a key -- not a license. If you bought this computer online, assuming it wasn't stolen, it's quite likely that the OS software was sold separately. If the software is in use, it's likely that it was activated using WPA and is thus registered to an entirely separate piece of hardware. (Technically OEM Windows isn't supposed to be transferred this way, but it's a lot easier to get around those hurdles than yours.) Vista apparently is a little more flexible.

Not to not answer the question, but make it Ubuntu. You'll be glad you did.
posted by dhartung at 6:15 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is it a Dell? If so -- it doesn't matter. It wont ask for a CDKey when it installs.
posted by SirStan at 6:44 PM on December 8, 2009


If you don't have the install disks, all you have is a key -- not a license.

You are contradicting the content of your link. It says:
"Just because you wipe the information clean off the hard drive before transferring the PC, it doesn't change the fact that the OEM Windows license stays with it. Because of this, yes, you certainly can reload the original OEM Windows CD back onto the PC since the OEM Windows license is tied to it anyway. Just be sure that when you transfer the PC to the new owner that you also transfer all of the OEM Proof of license components with it as well," Ligman added.
If the sticker is the only "proof of license component", which is very common, then according to that statement there is no issue.

Microsoft doesn't say it exactly that way though..
After an OEM software license has been installed on a PC, the license may not be installed on or transferred to another PC. However, the entire PC may be transferred to another end user along with the software license rights. When transferring the PC to the new end user the software media, manuals (if applicable) and certificate of authenticity label must be included. It is also advisable to include the original purchase invoice or receipt. The original end user cannot keep any copies of the software.
In that statement it isn't exactly clear whether the "(if applicable)" is meant to apply to just manual, or both manual and media.

In the past Microsoft's OEM license was not permissive of transfer or resale at all. I believe they began allowing it because of the prospect of protracted legal battles over the doctrine of first sale. In that spirit it seems obvious that if there never was any media, then the media isn't needed to complete the license. Nonetheless, I'd love to see something less ambiguous from Microsoft that specifically addresses this aspect of the question.
(who knows, maybe it is right in the text of the EULA... :P)

If you bought this computer online, assuming it wasn't stolen, it's quite likely that the OS software was sold separately.

I've no idea why you jump to this conclusion. Tons of Windows PCs are resold every day completely legitimately.
posted by Chuckles at 9:08 PM on December 8, 2009


me: I believe they began allowing it because of the prospect of protracted legal battles over the doctrine of first sale.

Just to expand on that a little. Along with problematic legal questions, Microsoft saw a great benefit in having Windows running on all those PCs that get donated to your local school board (lock the kiddies in early). No doubt this also contributed to the loosening of the EULA provisions regarding resale of OEM PCs.
posted by Chuckles at 9:12 PM on December 8, 2009


a. Call the laptop vendor and ask them. I'm sure they can tell you if you have the S/N of your laptop.
b. Call Microsoft.
posted by wongcorgi at 9:46 PM on December 8, 2009


...make it Ubuntu. You'll be glad you did.

Preaching to the choir, I'm afraid.

As you'd expect from one of my customers, their main computer already is running Ubuntu. Trust me that there are good and sufficient reasons why this laptop needs Windows. I wouldn't be doing this unless there were.
posted by flabdablet at 10:04 PM on December 8, 2009


Check the hardware and you should be able to make some educated guesses about what windows version it came with. Use some linux live disk to check cpu/memory/etc.
posted by DarkForest at 4:38 AM on December 9, 2009


You can probably look it up on the laptop manufacturer's site. Just input the s/n or service tag and it should provide the original shipped specs. It should at least narrow it down.
posted by dozo at 8:37 AM on December 9, 2009


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