Licensing FAQ

Genuine Microsoft Software

Q. What is validation and when do I need to do it?
Q. What is a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) label?
Q. How can I get a replacement COA?

A. The After-Market Fulfillment Program supporting System Builders with replacement orders for damaged Certificates of Authenticity (COAs) and recovery media through the OEM Partner Center (OPC) retired on April 15, 2016.

Complimentary software recovery can now be downloaded at

Alternatively, System Builders should request replacement of damaged COAs through their distributors.

Physical recovery media can also be ordered for a fee at Microsoft Customer Support. Use the following contact information based on location:

  • United States: (800) 360-7561
  • Canada: (800) 933-4750
  • All other countries must visit Global Customer Service to locate the correct contact number.
Q. What are the Microsoft Software License Terms?
Q. What are the different ways that my customers can get legal licenses for Windows desktop operating systems? What about software applications such as Microsoft Office 2016?
Q. I get many email solicitations offering "Microsoft software at cheap prices." Is this software legal?
Q. I see products like Windows 8.1 Professional—COA only—advertised for sale. Is this legal?

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System builder licensing

Q. What are the different ways in which Microsoft OEM system builder Windows desktop operating system licenses can be distributed?
Q. Can I provide a computer system to my customer without an operating system (also referred to as a "naked PC")?
Q. Can I create my own recovery disks and sell these with the computer systems that I build? I have heard that direct OEMs can do this, so why can't I?
Q. Are system builders allowed to create a "ghost image" CD and ship it along with the system for OEM customers?
Q. What are the ADK and OPK and why do I have to use them?
Q. We would like to create a computer system using an OEM Windows operating system that has a dual-boot feature. The single system would use the same version of Windows on both boot images/partitions.

Does this require two different licenses, or can I use the same license and product key for both images/partitions, since they are both on a single system that can use only one operating system at a time?
Q. Can a PC with an OEM Windows operating system have its motherboard upgraded and keep the same license? What if it was replaced because it was defective?
Q. The new COA is shaped differently from the previous COA. How do I apply it for the best coverage?
Q. How does a company qualify to become a direct Microsoft OEM? It seems that the larger companies currently have an unfair advantage compared with smaller OEMs.
Q. I am a reseller of PCs that come preloaded with OEM Windows operating systems. Am I allowed to load Microsoft Office onto these machines?
Q. Can two or more users access and fully use OEM Windows operating systems concurrently on the same machine?
Q. What can system builders offer their customers as a "legalization solution" for Windows desktop operating systems?

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    Windows system builder licensing for personal use

    Q. Can I purchase OEM system builder software for personal use?
    Q. Do personal use rights apply to upgrades from Windows 8?
    Q. Where can I get more information about the Personal Use License?

    Microsoft on preinstallation and software returns

    Q. When selling a PC to my customers, should it be preinstalled with a Microsoft operating system, and if so, must they use the Microsoft operating system purchased with the PC?

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    Refurbished/used PCs

    Q. What is the difference between a refurbished PC and a used PC?
    Q. Can I sell secondhand computer systems with the original Microsoft software, or will a new license be required before selling?
    Q. If my customer asks me to upgrade a PC with new hardware components, when is a new operating system needed? When would the PC be considered "new"?
    Q. Can a system builder install Microsoft OEM software on a refurbished computer system, which may include branded PCs, such as Hewlett-Packard and Compaq?
    Q. If I need to reinstall the operating system on a machine from a direct OEM, such as Dell, that my customer has brought in. How should I do this?

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    Downgrade rights

    Q. What are downgrade rights and how would my customer benefit from them?
    Q. Where can I find out more about downgrade rights?
    Q. Who can install the downgrade software or reinstall the original software?
    Q. Where do end users get the CD/media to install the downgrade software?
    Q. Can end users use both the latest version and the downgrade software at the same time?
    Q. Can end users return to Windows or Windows Server software after they downgrade?
    Q. How do end users reinstall the original software after downgrading?
    Q. Does Microsoft Office contain downgrade rights to a previous version?

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    Q. What is product activation?
    Q. Which customers and products are required to activate?
    Q. How does Microsoft product activation work?
    Q. What do I do if a customer returns a computer system that I sold, but the customer has activated the OEM system builder Windows software?

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    Volume Licensing

    Q. Where can I get more information about Microsoft Volume Licensing programs?
    Q. What is Software Assurance (SA)?
    Q. Do I need to register as a Volume Licensing reseller to offer Software Assurance to my customers?
    Q. I don't currently offer volume licenses. How do I become registered to offer Open License Business, Open License Volume, or Open License Value?
    Q. My customer wants to purchase a "naked" PC from me and acquire the Windows license through a Volume Licensing agreement. Is this OK?
    Q. If a school enters into a Microsoft Academic Volume Licensing agreement (Campus, School, Open, Select), does that mean it is licensed for a full Microsoft operating system, such as Windows?
    Q. If a school has an Academic Volume Licensing agreement, such as Campus, that currently covers a Windows upgrade, does it still need a license that covers the full Windows operating system as well?
    Q. If a school has an Academic Volume Licensing agreement and purchases a new PC, is it legal for the school to purchase a "naked" PC and use its Academic Volume License to install the full operating system?

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    Additional resources

    Q. My licensing question wasn’t answered in this FAQ. Where can I get additional help?

    Further assistance with your System Builder Licensing question is available through our Licensing Forums. The OEM Reseller Support System provides a direct link to Microsoft support engineers and technical experts who provide unlimited, text-based support through the OEM Reseller and System Builder Forums. Visit the OEM Reseller Support System page to get started.

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