In an abrupt and most welcome turnaround, the latest beta test version of Windows 10, build 10565, allows you to use your valid Windows 7 or 8.1 product key to activate Windows 10. Moreover, promises Microsoft, if you install Windows 10 on a machine that has the product key burned into its firmware (as is the case with the vast majority of modern machines), the Win10 installer will dig for the key and you’ll be rewarded with a fully activated copy.
Does it really work that way? Hard to tell. Microsoft hasn’t yet released the build 10565 ISOs, which would allow testers to perform a clean install and see if the reality meets the claims.
Everybody in the press (myself included) is counting on a statement from Win10 mouthpiece Gabe Aul, who said:
We have received a lot of feedback from Insiders on making it easier to activate Windows 10 on devices that take advantage of the free upgrade offer to genuine Windows by using existing Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 8.1 product keys. If you install this build of the Windows 10 Insider Preview on a PC and it doesn’t automatically activate, you can enter the product key from Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 8.1 used to activate the prior Windows version on the same device to activate Windows 10 by going to Settings > Update & security > Activation and selecting Change Product Key. If you do a clean install of Windows 10 by booting off the media, you can also enter the product key from prior Windows versions on qualifying devices during setup.
He points to the Insider Hub (accessible to Windows 10 beta testers), which goes on to say:
The product key from the prior version of Windows must correspond to the equivalent edition of Windows 10 you’re trying to activate as determined by the like to like Edition matrix for Windows 10. For example, you cannot activate Windows 10 Pro on a device that ran Windows 7 Home edition by using the Windows 7 Home product key.
If you have an OEM Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 device wherein the product key is provisioned into the device firmware by the OEM during manufacturing, Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 10565+ will automatically use the firmware product key upon rebooting after installation as long as the Windows 10 Edition matches the edition of Windows 8 that your device originally ran.
Please note that with Windows 10, we introduced a new activation technology that uses “digital entitlements” (more information available at Activation in Windows 10) that doesn’t require product keys -- basically you no longer need to remember and enter product keys. Using product keys from prior Windows versions to activate Windows 10 will activate your device using a digital entitlement.
Finally, once you activate Windows 10 or Windows 10 Insider Preview (Build 10240 and higher) you’ll be able to install public releases and Windows 10 Insider Preview builds of the same edition of Windows 10 seamlessly without the need to re-enter product keys.
That’s what we know for a fact -- or at least as an assertion. Everything else you may read is pure speculation at this point. In particular, Aul doesn’t mention anything about activating Windows 10 on a PC by using a valid Win 7 or 8.1 product key that’s already been used on a different machine.
As you may recall, Microsoft shot itself in the foot with its RTM (build 10240) Windows 10 activation method by first releasing a tool that allowed clean installs, then a month later explaining how you had to use the tool in order to come up with a “genuine” copy of Windows 10. I talk about the details in my story on Windows 10 installation problems.
The new build has other improvements, but they pale in comparison to the activation housecleaning Aul mentions:
- A new Skype messaging Universal app, which will one day integrate messaging, voice, and video calling and put messages in your Notification center. To see the vestigial version, click Start, Messaging. And if you’re used to using iMessage on OS X, be braced for a big slug of déjà vu.
- You can hover your mouse over a tab in Edge and see a preview of the page. (Chrome and Firefox have long had add-ons that accomplish the same thing.) There’s also an attempt to sync Favorites and Reading List items in Edge, but as Aul warns, it doesn’t work yet.
- Cortana is supposed to work with handwritten (“ink”) notes: Start Cortana, write a note, and it’s supposed to be translated into a Calendar entry. My test results were not particularly comforting. Perhaps it’s my stylus scrawl, although I have no trouble doing something quite analogous on my Samsung Galaxy Note. The new Cortana also keeps track of movies and ticketed events by scanning your email, just like Google.
- I’m not sure why, but Windows 10 now turns your last-used printer into the default printer. You can turn the setting back to what you’re used to with Start, Settings, Devices, Printer & Scanners, and sliding the Let Windows manage my default printer setting to Off.
I also found it interesting that the insider ring choice -- Start, Settings, Update & Security, Windows Update, Advanced options, Get Insider Preview builds -- is now a slider. Current settings are Fast and Slow, as has been the case since the beginning of the beta program. But apparently the groundwork is being laid for another setting or settings. Perhaps Ludicrous is coming ... or Glacial.
There’s a handful of changes in appearance: new icons, colored title bars, better right-click context menus on the Start menu. There’s a new icon and slightly improved behavior with the Safely Remove Hardware icon, down in the system tray.
Aul also lists some known issues: The search box does not work if you are in a locale where Cortana is not available (fix: Install any language pack). The Xbox app swallows tons of memory if you have any old (Win32) games installed or added into the Xbox app (fix: close the Xbox app). WebM and VP9 are out for now. “Small-form-factor devices, like the Dell Venue 8 Pro, that boot with rotation or virtual mode screen size set larger than the physical screen size will experience a bluescreen on upgrade and will roll back to the previous build” -- the usual beta blues.
Microsoft is asking that, if you have a blue screen during the download or install of build 10565, you post details on the Microsoft Answers forum. I hit repeated error 80070652 while trying to upgrade from 10547 to 10565 on a Surface Pro 3; clicking Restart when prompted solved the problem.
With PC sales in the third quarter tanking 8 to 10 percent year-over-year quarter, a little magic certainly wouldn’t hurt. With Microsoft’s new foray into the notebook market a lot of hardware manufacturers are no doubt wondering when the Mad Hatter’s wild ride will stop or at least slow down. Dell may already be bailing, selling off its PC business, according to a leak from Arik Hesseldahl at Re/code.
While all of the promised activation changes are well and good -- definitely a step forward and should’ve been implemented in the RTM build -- it leaves one huge question: What about the 110 million-plus Windows 10 experimenters who don’t yet have build 10565? I get many questions every day from people who are having trouble making their copies of Windows 10 “genuine.”
Since Microsoft created the problem in the first place (by not providing adequate instructions for using its own tools), and it’s going to fix the problem at some point in the undefined future (presumably when Threshold 2 arrives next month), what about those brave souls who took the plunge with the RTM build?