I have a MSDN Premium License and forgot which key (you get to claim 10 keys) I used to activate one of my Windows 7 installs.

I've always wondered why Microsoft don't show the current Windows Product Key in System Information? Why should I have to use a third party application to recover this?

Can anyone recommend one of these key recovery tools (which always look pretty dodgy) and vouch that it isn't malware loaded?

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    "oh hey, I'm just looking at your PC!" "No, I'm not stealing your product key, I'm checking out your RAM!" – Phoshi Oct 12 '09 at 17:22

I personally like Magic Jelly Bean Keyfinder for serial keys of Microsoft and other popular products.

The best I can figure out as to why Microsoft disables this by default is simply to stop casual people copying down the key and trying it on other systems - imagine if you just went to see a demo unit at the shop and re-used their serial key... I know it probably wouldn't work being OEM and tied, however having it a different length just stops any possibility of every day people trying.

  • Yeah, I can see the point WRT to someone stealing and reusing your key, but they could hide it behind a prompt for your username and password. But then again it did take them forever to build in the ability to change our product keys in the GUI. – Kev Oct 12 '09 at 17:28
  • The OEM keys wouldn't be of much use to people but the volume keys used by bigger businesses are another matter! – Loren Pechtel Nov 29 '09 at 3:19
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    @Loren, volume keys for Vista and 7 still require activation either through KMS or SLMGR making them much easier to see if they are being abused and distributed. XP was a serious free-for-all though – MDMarra Dec 9 '09 at 4:40

Belarc Advisor will retrieve everything you need. Nice free stuff.

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    haha the old "need a product key, google people's belarc posts" debacle. – MDMarra Dec 9 '09 at 4:42
  • Source for people who didn't hear of the story: digg.com/news/story/… – Shadok Feb 2 '12 at 17:19

With Windows XP, you could activate fresh installations of Windows using that product key 5 times before activation would fail.

If the key was displayed in System Information, a person could walk by your computer, press Windows + Break to bring up the System Information panel, and copy the product key, with no way for you to prevent its future use.

Viewing product keys in any piece of software can usually be looked down upon as a security issue. I'm not aware of any games or pieces of software that will reveal the key used for activation after the fact, and normal users generally do not have multiple product keys in the way you do.

  • I agree with your explanation of why it would be bad idea to view the Windows product key easily, however, I disagree with the number of times XP can be activated. To my knowledge, you can activate an XP install. But, then you have to wait 6 months to activate it again (or call up and explain your situation) and it has a 6 month "cool down" period. – Natalie Adams Nov 29 '09 at 4:42
  • Trying to activate a copy of Windows XP Professional failed a few months ago, a copy from my parents, when I know the key hasn't been used in a few years. At my work, a subscription to the Microsoft Power Pack came with 2 licenses for WinXP, each of which stated they could be activated up to 5 times, so that's what I'm going off of. – Will Eddins Nov 30 '09 at 15:06
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    Also, the fact that the WinXP Pro license I originally mentioned was initially installed on 3 computers, and I'm sure the license had been used at least 5 times before it failed to reject, which is why I assumed the 5-use policy applied here also. I've never personally seen a delayed activation such as that yet. – Will Eddins Nov 30 '09 at 15:10

I've always assumed that Microsoft hides keys to discourage piracy, although like you, I haven't quite figured out how this helps.

For key recovery, I like NirSoft's ProducKey. I've found NirSoft to be a reputable site with many useful utilities.

  • Yeah I've used NirSoft's USBDeview before, never noticed they had a product key widget as well. Thanks. – Kev Oct 12 '09 at 17:55

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