Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Moving Windows to a new machine is (mostly) not possible unless you've purchased a retail version of the operating system.

Most of us have purchased the latest pre-installed operating system, for example, Windows XP or Windows 7 at some time in the past, but without being supplied with a separate CD or DVD of the OS. Now, I don't see why I shouldn't be allowed to install the OS purchased with a previous PC on to a new PC. What advice would you offer to avoid duplicating the payment for an operating system to get running on a new PC? I can see that there are good reasons for not installing an OS from a recovery disc intended for a previous PC, even if that were possible, bearing in mind the uniqueness of each IP address. A further query: is it feasible to purchase a new PC and the Apple OS CD separately for installation with a view to ending up with an Apple computer?

In this excerpt from Answercast #77, I look at how Windows operating systems are distributed and why one copy will only work on one machine.

Moving Windows to a new machine

So there are a number of interesting issues in this question.

First all, I'll say I'm not a lawyer; this is not legal advice... yada, yada. The issue with, "You don't see why you shouldn't be allowed"... guess what? When you purchased that computer with a pre-installed operating system on it? My belief is you purchased not the "operating system," but rather a license to use the operating system. That license is valid only for the machine on which you originally purchased it.

What that means is: ultimately, legally, you may not be allowed to transfer that copy of the operating system to a different machine. Like I said, it's legal tap dancing in my opinion.

License agreement terms

But the bottom line is that: when you buy software, you're not actually buying a copy of the software that is yours. What you are purchasing is the right to use it under the terms of the license agreement that is included with that software.

Typically, that means one machine for an operating system.

Some licenses are different. Some licenses, like the retail license if you buy a copy of Windows off the shelf, may let you use it on one machine at a time - which means you can use it on one machine, stop using it on that machine, move it on to the next machine, and so forth. Which sounds like exactly what you're trying to do here.

The problem is that most OEM machines (in other words, the machines that come with the operating system pre-installed) have a different license. That license actually says you can't do what it is you're trying to do.

In fact, what you'll often find is that any operating system discs that may come with that system won't have drivers for any other systems - so they won't actually install on other systems.

One time use

There are definitely impediments or barriers to doing what it is you want to do - if you've purchased something that has a pre-install operating system.

And to be honest, we don't like the way that this works. I get that this is frustrating. But the reason it's this way is to keep the price down. In other words, it's how the pricing is structured.

By restricting it to that one machine only, the vendor, and Microsoft in turn are able to give you the operating system for a significantly lower price than if you go out and buy a retail copy which you can install on any machine, you want.

So, ultimately from a legal perspective, I don't believe you can do what it is you're trying to do with a pre-installed operating system.

The practical matter of it is you may be able to find discs for your second machine, your new machine. You may even be able to try and install the operating system on that machine - if they are the correct OEM discs for that machine. The problem here is that the product key that you have for your first machine (which really is the thing that identifies your ownership of that machine) and your rights to that license of Windows? That probably won't work on anything but a disc from that same OEM - and possibly it could even be restricted further to discs specifically for that original machine.

So, things get dicey; things get tough.

Buy a retail copy of Windows

The only solution that I'm truly aware of that works and works 100% of the time is to get yourself a retail copy of Windows that you can then put on one machine at a time - and install it on that second machine. Then, when that second machine dies, you'll be perfectly within your rights to install it on a third machine.

Unfortunately, it doesn't meet your criteria of not spending any money, but like I said, what happened here is you didn't spend the money up front for a copy that you could install on multiple machines. It saved you money up front.

The downside is that when it comes time to get a new machine, you have to spend some money again to get the operating system.

Switch to Linux

The other advice I have (if money really is the problem here) is to not use Windows.

Go grab a copy of one of the many variants of Linux: Ubuntu Linux, Linux Mint. There are several out there that are good base operating systems for many, many things. And these days, especially if all you're really doing is browsing the web and reading email, those operating systems will do just fine.

Yes, there's a learning curve. Yes, things will work a little bit differently. You can't just go out and buy a random game off the shelf and have it necessarily work in Linux.

But for basic operations, it works and it's completely free. You don't have to pay a penny.

So, that's really about the only advice I can give you on that particular topic.

Putting Apple on a PC

Now on the last question, "Can you get a new PC with the Apple OS CD?"

The short answer is no, actually.

The problem is that the Apple operating system is not (I believe) available on a disc for a random machine. Even if it is available, it does not work on the PC hardware.

It's actually not possible to install Apple's OSX on PCs. They assume you're running Apple hardware.

Now, I do have to throw out a huge caveat. There is a project, which is called "Hackintosh." It's an attempt to make what you've just described. It's not nearly that simple, but it is apparently a way to get the Apple operating system running on your PC.

Now, realize you have to buy the Apple operating system. I don't think there's a way around that. Certainly not a legal way around that. So you're still spending money on the operating system. But if you're trying to get it running on the PC, what I would recommend you do is go out and do some searches for "Hackintosh" and you'll be able to find a whole group of people who are doing this on a fairly regular basis. You can see what steps it's going to take and how much effort it might be for you.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6116 - December 10, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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6 Comments
Jerry Collins
December 11, 2012 9:00 AM

I have done this several times with OEM OS's. As of a year ago it was 100% legal. If the OS hasn't been used in 6 months there will be no problem, install normally. If you just got a new computer and the OS was used within 6 mo. a warning will pop up saying this copy of windows is on another computer with an 800 number to Microsoft. Call this number and answer the questions. It will ask you how many computers you have this copy on, answer with 1. The computer you are talking to will give you a very, very long number that you enter into the screen on the computer. When finished it will boot and run normally. If you are running on more than one machine I have no idea what will happen but if you are really only using it on one machine all will be well. The license is for one machine ... NOT the machine it was purchased on. I have spoke with a real person at Microsoft with the same results, before they automated the process.

Jerry Collins
December 11, 2012 9:06 AM

NOTE: This only works if you have a "stand alone" installation disc for Windows, or borrow one from someone ... the license is NOT attatched to the disc and will work fine as long as you enter YOUR license number and it is the exact same version of windows.

Clevelyn Crichlow
December 11, 2012 10:05 AM

You menetion installing one copy of windows on two different machines? Would Microsoft allow this?

Robin Clay
December 11, 2012 11:41 AM

... so my old computer, running XP, had rather reached the end of its useful life. The power switch disintegrated, the fan was noisy. It was "clogged", and slow, and hadn't much RAM, etc..

So I bought a smart new Win7 beast - which won't run my hardware ! In particular, three scanners and some Cutey add-on hard drives. No, really, apart from that, I STILL, after 16 months, do NOT like Win7.

So can I take the XP off the old one (which does actually still work) ? Or copy it ? and put it onto the new one, and create a "dual boot" option ?

If so, how ?

Glenn Meyer
December 11, 2012 1:59 PM

HOO-HA!!! Thank YOU for recommending Linux as an option. As you know, the Linux learning curve these days is not that steep, and I have found that in some cases, such as with my old Compaq laptop's PCMCIA wireless card, installing Mint was easier than installing Windows (yes, that's XP. This laptop couldn't handle 7, never mind 8). Keep up the good work!

Mark J
December 11, 2012 2:04 PM

@Robin
A dual boot system is an option. You would normally need an XP installation disk to do this, as it can't simply be copied from an existing installation. Here's a link to an article on the How to Geek web site on how to set it up.
Dual Boot Your Pre-Installed Windows 7 Computer with XP.

I haven't tried this, but the advice from How to Geek is usually pretty good.

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