Windows 10/11: Microsoft investigates activation problems with Windows 7/8.1 keys

Windows[German]Some users of Windows 10 or Windows 11 may have activation problems if these operating systems were originally activated with a Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 key. These are systems that were previously activated but have suddenly lost this activation due to BIOS updates or hardware changes and can no longer be activated. This behavior is not intentional and Microsoft is currently investigating why these effects occur.


Brief review: Upgrades from Windows 7/8.x

When Windows 10 was launched, Microsoft offered free upgrades from Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1. However, this free upgrade offer to Windows 10 officially expired on July 29, 2016.

Upgrade still worked with old keys

However, Microsoft was in no hurry to block this upgrade path. Even after July 29, 2016, it was still possible to install Windows 10 and activate it with a suitable product key from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. The same principle still works with Windows 11, where the installation could be activated with a suitable product key from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. Or you could choose to upgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 11, whereby Windows 10 had already been activated with a suitable product key from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.

Microsoft saved the successful activation as a so-called "digital entitlement" (a digital license) under the administrator's Microsoft account. This "digital activation" could also be used to reactivate such an installation at a later date, for example during a new installation or after a hardware replacement where the operating system was no longer activated – a short online connection under the relevant Microsoft account was sufficient.

Microsoft has now blocked the upgrade path

At the end of September 2023, I reported in the article Windows 10/11: Upgrade path with Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 keys no longer works (Sept. 2023) that the remaining license keys for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 can no longer be used to upgrade to Windows 10 or Windows 11 free of charge.

Some users were able to use the old product keys from Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 to activate Windows 10 or Windows 11 even after the end of September 2023. For other users, however, activation was denied. In mid-October 2023, I reported in the German blog post Windows 7/8.1-Schlüssel für Upgrades funktionieren nicht mehr; Office KMS Key-Aktivierungsprobleme about the official confirmation from Microsoft that this upgrade path would now be closed by Redmond.


Suddenly there are activation issues

Since Microsoft has been working on closing the activation path via old Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 product keys as outlined above (the whole thing has probably been implemented in stages), there seems to be an increasing number of cases where systems with Windows 10 or Windows 11 that have already been successfully activated lose their "Digital Entitlement". This means that as soon as a change is made to the system (BIOS upgrade, hardware partially replaced) and the activation is lost, there are problems. The reactivation from the digital license ("Digital Entitlement") is simply no longer accepted.

Microsoft is investigating the problem

It appears that the changes Microsoft has made to block upgrading or activation with Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 product keys is having unintended consequences. Even someone who has legally and officially upgraded from Windows 7/8.1 to Windows 10 and perhaps later to Windows 11 or used the old product key for activation is running into problems.

Readers of The Verge were probably faced with the problem, as the medium reported here. Editor Tom Warren also wrote that he had this experience with a copy of Windows 11 at the end of October 2023. After replacing the motherboard in one of his test PCs, activation with the digital key assigned to his Microsoft account was no longer possible. Warren had to buy a new Windows 11 key instead.

Daniel Mittelman also updated some parts on a computer and then had problems with the existing Windows installation refusing to activate after starting the system. Mittelman told The Verge in an email that he had received the following statements from Microsoft support:

The automatic activation didn't work, so I contacted customer support. They [Microsoft] told me that they could not continue my Windows 10 Pro license after the hardware change because my Windows 10 license had been upgraded from Windows 7 and they had discontinued support for Windows 7 product keys.

They have also confirmed that the hardware change is not a violation of the Windows license, so there is no reason to revoke or change my Windows 10 license in any way.

Classic case: The person concerned was actually entitled to continue using the Windows 10 license, but this was invalidated by Microsoft as part of the deactivation of the old Windows 7/8.1 product keys. Support then has no way of re-authorizing the activation. The person concerned told The Verge that he had therefore complained to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Windows 11 activation issues

This does not seem to be an isolated case, as Tom Warren has dug up the above tweets where another affected person also had to buy a new product key. This tweet also confirms the problems, this time with a Windows 8 product key.

Tom Warren then contacted Microsoft about the issue and received confirmation from Bill Babonas, the main Windows product manager, that the problem was known. He said "Microsoft is aware of these customer reports and is investigating them. Customers experiencing technical difficulties should contact customer support." Looks like Microsoft (or its customers) are once again falling foul of a recent change in product activation.

Similar articles
Windows 10/11: Upgrade path with Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 keys no longer works (Sept. 2023)
Windows 7/8.1 key no longer works for Win 10/11 upgrades; Office KMS key activation problems
Microsoft 365: Activation issues with Windows Pro Enterprise (May 31, 2022)

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