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Secrets of Win10 Activation & Keys Revealed

After months of wondering and speculation on this subject, Microsoft has finally published a web page entitled “Activation in Windows 10.” It explains how activation works, and is particularly informative on the subject of what it calls “Digital Entitlement” — a term used to describe the situations where upgrading or reinstalling Windows 10 on an eligible or already upgraded PC does NOT require users to enter a product key.


As has been speculated for some time now, successful activation of an upgrade to Win10 is what makes a subsequent clean install both possible and legal.

Digital entitlement applies in the following circumstances, according to the afore-cited web page:

  • Free upgrade from an eligible device running a genuine copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1
  • Online purchase of Windows 10 from the Windows Store successfully activated
  • Online purchase of a Windows 10 upgrade from the Windows Store successfully activated
  • Windows Insider upgraded to latest Windows 10 Insider Preview build on an eligible device running an activated previous version of Windows and Windows 10 preview

On the other hand, a product key is required in the following situations:

  • Purchase a physical copy of Windows 10 from some authorized retailer (key is furnished on a label in the physical packaging)
  • Purchase a digital copy of Windows 10 from some authorized retailer (key is furnished in post-purchase confirmation e-mail)
  • Volume licensing agreement or MSDN subscription (keys come from program-related Web portal)
  • Purchase a new device running Windows 10 (OS comes pre-installed on device, and key is provided in device packaging of included on a separate card or on a Certified of Authenticity label attached to the device)

Those with digital entitlements can skip key entry during subsequent upgrade or clean installations because that information will be provided when the device synchs up with Microsoft after the install is complete. Now, at long last, we finally *know* what is going on with Windows 10 keys. Hooray!