What Happens If You Lose Your Activation Code for Your Operating System?

Customers who lose their product activation codes for Windows operating systems may experience restrictions to their system tools. These restrictions vary by Windows release. Mac OSX operating systems do not require an activation or registration code.

An activation code is required for all Windows operating systems when installing or reinstalling the operating system. Windows owners can check the Windows packaging or confirmation email for download purchases to locate the activation code. Manufacturers may also place product stickers on the computer hardware with this information. Users who are unable to locate the activation code are required to purchase a new product key to enable all operating system features.

Microsoft operating systems offer a 30-day grace period of full functionality without a valid activation code. After this period, Windows disables some or all system functions. Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 block all operating system access after 30 days. Windows Vista RTM offers a reduced functionality mode that disables Windows Aero and built-in games and forces an hourly system reboot. Windows Vista Service Pack 1 and Service Pack 2, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 disable the desktop background and non-critical system updates while retaining all other system functions. Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10 and Windows Server 2012 provide periodic reminders to authenticate the software and disable some personalization features.