Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.info.
No, I'm not talking about your car keys, though you probably don't want to lose those either, I'm talking about your product keys.
When you purchase software it's easy to think that you're purchasing the CD or DVD and perhaps the manual that might come with it. In a sense that's true, but many people end up throwing away the most important thing they purchased. They might save the disc, or even the manual and throw away ... the product key.
The product key is that string of random numbers and letters that seem totally meaningless, but that you need to type in to activate or enable the software's feature. You probably remember them as being incredibly difficult to type in correctly since they do seem so random.
While every CD for a particular product is probably identical, the product key printed on the outside of the software's packaging is different on every box. It's that product key that identifies your unique legitimate copy of the software.
In a very real sense, it's actually that product key that you're purchasing, not the CD or DVD. This is particularly true for downloadable software, where there is no box. When you finally purchase the software the vendor emails you an activation code - the product key.
Look at it this way, if you keep your CD but lose the key, you might be able to install the software, but you can't activate it. If however, you lose the CD but do still have the key, it's quite legitimate to install from a borrowed CD or a download and simply use the key you already have to activate it.
I consider product keys important enough that I actually treat them like passwords. For each package I purchase I add the key to a spreadsheet I keep on my encrypted drive. That way no matter what else I might lose, I can always re-install and activate with my saved keys.
Now, if software came pre-installed on your machine you may never have even seen a key. Check out the packaging that came with your machine now, before you lose it.
There are also utilities that, for some software such as Windows XP and Office, can retrieve the key from the registry for you and display it. If you haven't already, I recommend you do exactly that and save the resulting information in a safe place.
Someday, when your hard disk crashes, and you've lost the packaging that had the keys on them, you'll thank me.
I'd love to hear what you think. Visit askleo.info and enter 11438 in the go to article number box to access the show notes and to leave me a comment. While you're there, browse over 1,100 technical questions and answers on the site.
Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for askleo.info.
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