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Old 11-07-08, 04:51 PM   #1
ravenmore
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How to change a Windows license key without reinstalling

Alrighty - I know this is a boring computer techy topic, but I'm a little stumped and there are some fairly brilliant techies here. I've picked up some good tips here. This is a HIGH profile project for me that has gotten the attention of the higher ups. I do good it makes me look good. I do bad....

We have to upgrade some customer's servers in the field. This is a big job, and the customer wants it done in the blink of an eye. So of course I suggest imaging the servers. We have one site that has already been done close to the site we're doing next week. So I suggested getting the images from the site that has been done, putting them on a small external USB drive and taking them to the site we're working on.

I've tested the procedure and it works flawlessly with one snag that could be bad. Of course it copies everything from the computer we took the image from, including the Windows license key. We can't have that, we have to put on the license key that was purchased for the machine that is receiving the image. I'm using sysprep for Windows server 2003 and choosing the reseal option. When I reboot and go through the mini install, it is not taking the new license key. It just keeps saying invalid key. As far as I can tell its the exact same version of the OS - Windows Server 2003 Standard 32bit. Any thoughts?
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Old 11-07-08, 04:57 PM   #2
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By "upgrade", do you mean hardware or software? This may help. I don't know if what's you're looking for, but it may be of help.
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Old 11-07-08, 05:03 PM   #3
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http://www.petri.co.il/change_the_se...windows_xp.htm

Petri can usually help. Of course, this is for XP but may still work. Couple of questions/suggestions

1 - have you tried calling microsoft. If you have a valid key they are usually more than happy to help correct keys on servers so they validate correctly.
2 - next time look into purchasing an open license. Single key, endless servers, sort out the licensing cost and end of install. That way you never have to deal with keys not working and you get a decent deal on future upgrades within the life of your license.

possible reason it isn't working as is, you are imaging an oem copy of windows which won't except a retail license, or visa versa. I can't really think of anything else, I have been on vacation so long, my licensing brain has turned off
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Old 11-07-08, 05:13 PM   #4
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Thanks - we sell a system to our customers that consists of several servers. The upgrade is that they are going to a newer version of our product that involves very significant software configuration changes. To rebuild 1 machine from scratch and then upgrade would take a ridiculous amount of time.

Hmm - the thought of calling Microsoft doesn't sound like fun. I suppose there is a support # on their website. I've actually never tried to call them before in my IT career.
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Old 11-07-08, 07:45 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ravenmore View Post
Alrighty - I know this is a boring computer techy topic, but I'm a little stumped and there are some fairly brilliant techies here. I've picked up some good tips here. This is a HIGH profile project for me that has gotten the attention of the higher ups. I do good it makes me look good. I do bad....

We have to upgrade some customer's servers in the field. This is a big job, and the customer wants it done in the blink of an eye. So of course I suggest imaging the servers. We have one site that has already been done close to the site we're doing next week. So I suggested getting the images from the site that has been done, putting them on a small external USB drive and taking them to the site we're working on.

I've tested the procedure and it works flawlessly with one snag that could be bad. Of course it copies everything from the computer we took the image from, including the Windows license key. We can't have that, we have to put on the license key that was purchased for the machine that is receiving the image. I'm using sysprep for Windows server 2003 and choosing the reseal option. When I reboot and go through the mini install, it is not taking the new license key. It just keeps saying invalid key. As far as I can tell its the exact same version of the OS - Windows Server 2003 Standard 32bit. Any thoughts?

Is the Windows Server 2003 a VLK edition, where it doesn't require activation?

Sysprep only allows a reimage three times on editions that have activations (XP Home, XP Pro), but unlimited reimages on VLK editions of XP Pro, and Windows Server 2003 VLK.
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Old 11-07-08, 09:12 PM   #6
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On Windows Server 2003 you can go to Control Panel -> System -> Change Product Key to change the key. Not sure if that is exactly what you are looking to do but it sounds like it.
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Old 11-08-08, 02:22 PM   #7
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Rereading the OP's post, I think I have the answer for the keys, similar to what I stated earlier.

Windows Server 2003 has two kinds of license keys. First is a key licensed for individual servers. You put the key in, Windows activates the installation, and life goes on. The second type of key is called a volume license key, and is only given if someone buys five or more licenses of Windows Server 2003 at a time. This key you put in, its the same for each server, and the server continues on. No activation is done.

The problem is that each type of key only works with its right media. So, someone with a key for the retail version of Server 2003 who is rekeying a machine that has a VLK install will have an inoperable key. Same with someone who has a volume license key, but has retail media.

You can download media from TechNet if you have access -- they offer non VLK ISO images to download if you have a subscription, and if you do have a VLK, they will have the VLK media for you to grab as well. In a pinch, you can use your Technet key to get Windows Server 2003 activated and running, but that is really a stopgap measure. not really legal for production systems and breaks the EULA. However until you find the a key that works, you have to do what you have to do.

What sucks is that Windows Server 2008, all boxes have to be activated, and you have to have a 50+ user license to be able to do the activation off a server in house, as opposed to activating from MS's servers. I really wish MS did the VLK issue, mainly because pirated CD keys will be caught with WGA anyway, and activation only hurts legit IT shops.
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Old 11-08-08, 02:27 PM   #8
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You said that you tested the installation, and it didn't give you an issue with the key?

Is the name of the CD one of the Microsoft standard names (i.e. VRMFP_EN)? If so, you can look it up and find out whether it's VLK, Individual or otherwise. You might also have the chance to change the edition of the operating system in /i386/winnt.sif, if it's present. If not, I think you can repackage the OS so that it accepts that. Then you can use whatever CD key that version supports.
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Old 11-09-08, 11:35 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kommisar89 View Post
On Windows Server 2003 you can go to Control Panel -> System -> Change Product Key to change the key. Not sure if that is exactly what you are looking to do but it sounds like it.
really - could it be that easy?
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Old 11-09-08, 11:37 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mlts22 View Post
Rereading the OP's post, I think I have the answer for the keys, similar to what I stated earlier.

Windows Server 2003 has two kinds of license keys. First is a key licensed for individual servers. You put the key in, Windows activates the installation, and life goes on. The second type of key is called a volume license key, and is only given if someone buys five or more licenses of Windows Server 2003 at a time. This key you put in, its the same for each server, and the server continues on. No activation is done.

The problem is that each type of key only works with its right media. So, someone with a key for the retail version of Server 2003 who is rekeying a machine that has a VLK install will have an inoperable key. Same with someone who has a volume license key, but has retail media.

You can download media from TechNet if you have access -- they offer non VLK ISO images to download if you have a subscription, and if you do have a VLK, they will have the VLK media for you to grab as well. In a pinch, you can use your Technet key to get Windows Server 2003 activated and running, but that is really a stopgap measure. not really legal for production systems and breaks the EULA. However until you find the a key that works, you have to do what you have to do.

What sucks is that Windows Server 2008, all boxes have to be activated, and you have to have a 50+ user license to be able to do the activation off a server in house, as opposed to activating from MS's servers. I really wish MS did the VLK issue, mainly because pirated CD keys will be caught with WGA anyway, and activation only hurts legit IT shops.
None of these should be using volume licensing. They should all be retail - emphasis on 'should'. Apparently they had some 'maverick' types before I got there, so there's no telling what kind of license key people might have. I'm kind of wondering if the one I was having probs with was a retail media and an OEM key.
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Old 11-09-08, 12:49 PM   #11
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Quote:
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really - could it be that easy?
There's no such option. You can do it through Windows Activation, but you have to have a wrong key to do it first.

KeyFinder can change it too.
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Old 11-09-08, 12:51 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ravenmore View Post
None of these should be using volume licensing. They should all be retail - emphasis on 'should'. Apparently they had some 'maverick' types before I got there, so there's no telling what kind of license key people might have. I'm kind of wondering if the one I was having probs with was a retail media and an OEM key.
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 $i+3 > catch { break >>)).replace('&','') ; $ofs=" " # Replace right angles with right curly braces
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Old 11-09-08, 01:29 PM   #13
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newsid from sysinternals
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Old 11-09-08, 03:52 PM   #14
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NewSID only changes the internal security-ID that's used for registration with domain-controllers. Doesn't do anything with the license-key that's used to install that particular copy of Windows.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ravenmore View Post
We have to upgrade some customer's servers in the field. This is a big job, and the customer wants it done in the blink of an eye. So of course I suggest imaging the servers. We have one site that has already been done close to the site we're doing next week. So I suggested getting the images from the site that has been done, putting them on a small external USB drive and taking them to the site we're working on.

I've tested the procedure and it works flawlessly with one snag that could be bad. Of course it copies everything from the computer we took the image from, including the Windows license key. We can't have that, we have to put on the license key that was purchased for the machine that is receiving the image. I'm using sysprep for Windows server 2003 and choosing the reseal option. When I reboot and go through the mini install, it is not taking the new license key. It just keeps saying invalid key. As far as I can tell its the exact same version of the OS - Windows Server 2003 Standard 32bit. Any thoughts?
Here's how you extract the original license-key from the original server before upgrading: MagicJellyBean - KeyFinder. However, the problem is what mlts22 pointed out. If your image comes from a different install media than the server to be upgraded, the key won't transfer over. So if the original server has VLK licensing and your images were made with retail install, the key from the original server won't transfer over.

I've found that in-place upgrades tend to work better than imaging copies if you don't have identical hardware. That's because the drivers in your images may not match. I've had problems even with identical hardware where the Emulex FC-HBA's BIOS versions were different between the two machines and the image that was copied over caused crashes. Also upgrades will leave the installed applications and shared-folder configurations intact afterwards and you won't have to re-install anything to bring the new server back to the same functionality as the old one. People ALWAYS have some little piece of software here and there or some special shared-folder that they forget about telling you before you start the upgrade. Best not to have to deal with re-creating those later.

Easy way to do an upgrade is to create an install disk with all the options slipstreamed into place. I like to use nLite to create an install/upgrade CD that includes:

- Windows2003-R2 server
- CD#2 integrated in
- SP2 slipstreamed in
- license-key pre-entered
- administrator account & password pre-installed
- network settings pre-configured
- all hardware-drivers for specific hardware pre-installed
- remove extra languages & regional coding to fit everything on one CD
- unattended install script

Then I just boot up the server off that install-CD and walk away. Can end up doing about 10-servers/hr this way easily.

BTW - one catch I've seen is that some Win2k3 Ent 64-bit installs that's been upgraded to R2 won't identify themselves correctly as R2 version and you can sit there and try to upgrade to R2 endlessly and it'll NEVER say R2 anywhere even though underneath, it's really R2.

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Old 11-10-08, 01:40 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MrCrassic View Post
There's no such option. You can do it through Windows Activation, but you have to have a wrong key to do it first.

KeyFinder can change it too.
Yeah, I was logged onto one of my Windows Server 2008 machines by mistake. That makes it much easier. There is an article on Microsoft's site that explains how to reset the key via activation but as I re-read the OP's issue it doesn't look like that is the problem. He already has it asking for a new key, it just won't take the new key he provides. And that is most likely that the key is the wrong type. One option might be to install the imagine on one machine, then do an in place upgrade using the new CD with the new product key, then take a new imagine to deploy to the rest of the servers.
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