Tuesday, 4 April 2017

About Windows 10 Installs from ISOs and how to activate using Win7/8 Product Keys

When you use Easy2Boot to install Windows 8/10/SVR2016 directly from an ISO file, E2B will ask you to specify an XML file which contains a Win 10 Product Key (or you can pick a Product Key which E2B will then patch into the XML file for you).

You can use one of the generic installation Product Keys listed by the E2B menu system or you can specify a genuine Microsoft activation key of your own.

Some versions of Windows 8/10 will just stop with a 'license error' if you don't specify a Product Key (or use an incorrect Product Key) in the XML file. If I MBR-boot from a Win 10 Home+Pro install ISO on my IdeaPad 300 (which previously had an activated UEFI-installation of Win 10 Home), then Setup only gives me the option to install Win 10 Home when using an XML file with no Product Key inside - the Win 10 Pro option is not offered at all even though the ISO contains both Pro and Home!

If I use a Win 10 Pro generic Product Key in an XML file with the same ISO, it installs Win 10 Pro.

I presume that the keys must contain encoded information which includes:
  • Type: Retail, OEM, Volume Licence MAK or KMS
  • ID: A unique ID number
  • Edition: Pro, Home, etc.
  • Version: Win10, Win7, Win8, etc.
So you need to install Windows 10 using a Win10 Product Key.

Now because Windows 7 and Windows 8 systems can still be upgraded for free to Windows 10, you can activate with a Windows 7 or Windows 8 Product Keys after you install a new Windows 10 OS, but you can't use a Win7/8 key as an installation key.

EXAMPLE: Win 10 Pro for less than £3!

For instance...
Today I booted to E2B and used a Windows 10 1703 Home+Pro Install ISO to install Windows 10 onto my IdeaPad notebook which had been previously activated with Win 10 Home.
 
I specified a genuine, new and unactivated Windows 7 Pro Product key (purchased 2 hours ago for just over £2 from eBay!) as the installation key which was added into the XML file. The result was that Windows Setup ignored the Windows 7 Pro product key but only listed Win 10 Home as an OS choice (I had to use the 'Back' arrow and start again to get both Home+Pro choices)!

So I needed to first use a generic Windows 10 Pro Product Key to perform the installation automatically and then I could activate it after installation, by typing in the genuine Windows 7 Pro Product Key (tip: connect to the internet first - otherwise it seems to let you enter the whole key first, before checking that it has a connection and then it aborts and you have to connect and re-type the key in again!)

Also, now, because my IdeaPad has now been activated with a genuine Windows Pro key, when I performed another fresh install of Win10 Pro using a generic Win10 Pro installation key, then as soon as it connected to the internet, it automatically activated itself and I did not need to use the Win7 Pro key again.

Windows Product keys are not 'bit-sensitive' - the same key can be used to install a 32-bit version of Windows or a 64-bit version of the same Edition - both will activate correctly.


Note:

2017 August - MS seemed to have changed something! If you have a system which was never activated with a Windows 10 key (e.g. you updated a win7/8 system), then you cannot activate it with a Win7/8 key.

e.g.

  1. Win7 Home HP notebook
  2. update to Win10 Home (activates without needing product key)
  3. Wipe HDD and install Win10 Pro using generic install key
  4. Genuine Win8Pro key will not activate - you must use a Win10 Pro key.

GOTCHA!

P.S. I had problems installing from a Windows ISO using one of my E2B USB flash drives. I kept getting a 'Windows cannot open the required file D:\Sources\install.esd' error. This caused quite a bit of head scratching for 5 minutes!

It turned out that this was because I had previously extracted files from a Windows install ISO onto the E2B drive and a \Sources folder was present on the E2B drive. Windows Setup was getting confused by this folder. If you are booting directly from an ISO file, make sure that your E2B USB drive (or any other drive in the system) does not contain a \Sources folder.

The next version of E2B will test for a \Sources folder and warn the user if it finds one on the E2B drive! If you have a multi-partition USB HDD, you will need to make sure that the other partitions do not contain a \Sources folder also.