How to activate Microsoft Windows operating systems and software


There are a number of mechanisms that may be used to activate systems, and broadly speaking these fall into two categories, namely permanent activation via a one-time operation, or an activation lease which is automatically renewed as required.

The preferred mechanism for University IT support staff (ITSS) to activate Microsoft operating systems obtained under the Microsoft Campus and Select Agreements is via a lease obtained from a central server. This uses a service provided by Microsoft called the Key Management Service (KMS). It may be used for volume licence versions of Microsoft software downloaded from the ITSS Site Licensed Software site (restricted access), and all versions of Windows Server and other Microsoft software purchased from the IT Services Shop.

For personally owned Microsoft operating systems or software, you will need to use your supplied activation key or contact your software vendor for guidance.

Expand All

IT Services provide a server running KMS to provide activation leases. This KMS server may be used to activate systems installed from volume licence media obtained under the University Microsoft Select or Campus agreements. It may not be used to activate versions of operating systems obtained from other sources.

For details of how to configure Windows operating systems to activate against the University KMS, registered ITSS should refer to the ITSS Wiki Microsoft Volume Licensing Activation pages (restricted access).

If you need to run servers that cannot periodically contact the central KMS server (for example you have servers on an isolated network for security purposes) please contact IT Services via to discuss alternatives.

The following generally applies to systems activated via a KMS server.

  • Systems can be installed from media without being activated. They will be fully functional immediately, and there is an initial grace period before activation is required. This is 30 days for desktop operating systems and 60 days for server editions.
  • Systems are activated by obtaining a lease; they are not permanently activated.
  • The lease must be renewed periodically. Systems will automatically renew the lease every 7 days by contacting the KMS. Systems without a valid lease will contact the KMS more frequently (every 2 hours).
  • Systems can remain activated for up to 180 days without needing to re-contact the KMS.
  • Systems that haven't renewed their activation lease within 180 days have a 30 day grace period before they will persistently notify that they need to be activated. In addition they will display a black desktop background, and Windows Update will only install critical updates.

Some situations require that software be permanently activated as the machine on which it installs does not have any contact with the University network.  In this instance please contact for advice.

Get support

If you cannot find the solution you need here then we have other ways to get IT support

Get IT support