In a recent article I talked about the Food For Thoughtneeded for basic computer repair problems and one of the skills I mentioned was understanding Windows Licensing.

I touched on the topic a little bit in an old article about how to determine what type of license key/cd you have but didn’t go into it very deeply. In this article, I will tell you the differences between each Windows license in greater detail.

OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer)
OEM licenses for Windows are generally cheaper to buy than the retail version but OEM’s must be sold in conjunction with internal computer hardware. Typically, you will see OEM copies of Windows sold with new computers.
OEM copies usually come in a flat, shrink wrapped paper CD holder with a cardboard backing and will say something like “Only for distribution with a new PC” on it. Additionally, OEM versions are intended to be supported by the system manufacturer rather than Microsoft.

Do not sell OEM copies of without internal hardware like a motherboard or hard drive. Microsoft do pursue this and often bait computer businesses so they can fine them for attempting to skirt the proper licensing model. A OEM copy of Windows will only accept OEM Windows license keys.

If the disk is branded with a brand name like HP, Compaq or Dell it is most likely a OEM copy. The Windows case will say something like “For use on new (brand name) computers only” and the license sticker will usually have the brand name of the manufacturer on it. Other than the visual differences on the disc, license sticker and the “System Properties” area of the computer; They are identical to OEM copies.

There are multiple licences for Retail versions of Windows . One is “Upgrade” and the other is “Full Purchase Product (FPP)”.
Retail versions of Windows are often sold at big box computer stores where anyone can buy one off the shelf. The Full Purchase Product usually cost more than OEM versions and you usually don’t get a sticker to put on the computer case. Instead, they provide a sticker remains on the Windows disc case. Microsoft only provides 90 days of support for the retail version. Enough support time for people installing on their own built PCs.

To use the “Upgrade” version, you must have a working version of Windows to upgrade from. For XP Home it can only be Windows 98, 98 Second Edition or Millennium Edition. For XP Professional it can only be Windows 98, 98 SE, ME, NT or 2000 Professional.

A Windows XP OEM CD key will not work with a Retail CD and vice versa.

Volume License
Volume License versions of Windows are provided to businesses under a purchase agreement with Microsoft. Volume Licenses use “Volume License Keys (VLK)” and provide the ability to use a single key for multiple systems and it does not require activation for each computer.

Of course, this leads to mass piracy and most pirate versions you will find are most likely be a Volume License version. However, when installing Service Packs, it checks your license against a known database of pirate Volume License keys and will not install the service pack if it detects the key to be pirate.

There are three Volume License flavors: Open License, Select License and Enterprise Agreement. You can be an Open License customer with as few as 5 licenses. Select and Enterprise require at least 250 desktops each.

There are versions of Windows XP that are known as a “Corporate Licenses”. These still fall under the same rules as a Volume License.

Volume License keys are not interchangeable with Retail or OEM versions of Windows XP.

Joseph Forbes (691)

Information Technology Consultant. For SMB, SOHO, and Online business. From Computers to Telecommunications this guy has been into it since hippies made it hip. Drone Pilot and Tech Aficionado I get to travel the State of Texas to help businesses succeed.