How do you keep track of serial numbers and activation codes?

I’m working on a series of projects that will have me heads-down all this week. While I’m otherwise occupied, here’s a question for you:

I’m assuming that most of you have multiple computers, and that you occasionally upgrade hardware or your operating system, requiring activation and validation and other associated licensing activities. And then there’s application software. When I change PCs I have to enter dozens of serial numbers and registration codes and occasionally perform some sort of activation as part of installing programs I own. I’ve described my system for keeping this information organized. But I’m curious: how do you tackle the same task? How do you keep track of serial numbers, license keys, and other essential PC-related information? Which companies are best and worst when it comes to serial numbers and activation?

22 thoughts on “How do you keep track of serial numbers and activation codes?

  1. Not necessarily the best way but…

    I keep a folder called “Copy to New Computer”. If I download something I like and expect to always want installed, I’ll copy the setup to this folder.
    Within the folder I have a password protected Word document with serial numbers, keys and a few name/passwords to vendor sites.

    I make sure it’s backed up and mainly used when I get a new computer or have to rebuld one.

    Best vendor I’ve run into lately is Ipswitch which has a nice system for re-downloading programs and getting serial numbers for WS-FTP.


  2. Since these days pretty much all registration codes come by way of email, I simply have a “Registered Software” folder in Outlook that I shift all of them into. Then if I ever need to find the code for something all I have to do is type the name of the program into the Outlook search box (which works fantastically well in 2007) and up it pops.

    I find there’s no point keeping copies of the actual installers (unless it’s one that you can’t re-download later) because in the event I do need to reinstall there is usually a later version available than the one I downloaded previously.

  3. Outlook’s Notes feature. It’s a great place to throw information that has no inherent organization, and since I have a great deal of my life in Outlook anyway, why not?

    I also have a folder where I keep installers for common apps, and I often keep a text document with the relevant install codes for many of them in there. So it’s often semi-redundant.

  4. Pretty much a mixture of comments #1 and #2.

    If it’s software that doesn’t get updated often or is a large download, like many of my software development tools, then I just have a text file next to the setup exe with the numbers.

    Otherwise I tag the registration e-mail in gmail as “registration” and then re-download the software.

    For awhile I used Vista’s Digital Locker and that works ok but sometimes low tech is easier.

  5. I have a “All New Software” folder where I keep the software I really have installed on my laptop and use Ilium Software eWallet to store passwords, PINs, serial numbers. It’s great because it synchronises to my Pocket PC which means I don’t have to actually install eWallet on a PC if I need to lookup a number of password quickly.

  6. I write what computer the software goes with on a post-it note. Then the post-it goes on the shrinkwrap box. Then the box goes in a giant box full of this stuff. When I need to re-install something, I dig through the box.

    However, really the only software I have that matters is Windows and Office. My wife works for Microsoft, so I end with shrinkwrap copies of everything from the company store.

    By the way Ed, got my copy of Windows Home Sever set up last week. So far, nothing but good things to say about it. Microsoft really got something right with that.

  7. I have a pretty simple setup. I run a file server that has an “Apps/Licenses” directory. I keep each license code in a plain text file named for the software being licensed. I also include a version number or year in the filename if it’s relevant.

  8. I put them all on my server. I setup all computers to point to the P: drive (p is for public). On that drive is a download folder containing all the stuff I’ve downloaded. Software that have keys are saved in a text file in the appropriate folder. I also keep e-mail relating to purchased software in a folder in Thunderbird. Each user has folder on the P: drive which we redirect the documents folder to. I backup that public share to a USB external drive on the same server each night and then it’s backed up again to a 2nd computer (my media center pc).

    For shrink wrapped software I keep all the keys in a text file. I do this because in the past I have stored a cd in the wrong case or sleeve. So I’ve had sleeves with keys printed on them, but no idea what software it went to.

    I’m all set as long as the house doesn’t burn down. I need to come up with an off-site strategy.


  9. Games
    Excel spreadsheet with 90 keys for games. I keep 2 copies on 2 external USB drives and also print out a hard copy occasionaly.

    Everything Else
    I put the key in a text file along with the program on my 2 external USB drives.

    Activation requiring programs
    I don’t use any programs which require activation but there was a case about 2 years ago where my paid for copy of Alcohol 120% decided to switch to an activation scheme. Yep, I definetly cracked that and keep the crack with my paid copy.

    I also picked up Bioshock (Decided to see if my activation stance was unfounded…it wasn’t activation is a PITA), Bioshock required activation wich pissed me off so I downloaded the NOCD and Noauthentication patch. Burned that to a CD and put that in my CD case along with original copy of Bioshock. Also have that CD and the Bioshock image on 2 external USB drives for safekeeping.

  10. I’ve written a program for my PocketPC Phone that imports the MSDN key export file, and lets you add and manage your own keys. I intend to release it at some point, I just need to clean it up and give it some fit-and-polish.

  11. For personal serial numbers and codes I use eWallet and for those at work we use an internal Wiki.

  12. I use SIW to create a log file in HTML form, which inventories the system. It saves the product keys/serial numbers and much more – hardware, network info, and installed applications – for each system.

    This way I always have complete inventory snapshots of my machines.

    SIW is available for free at

  13. On my main computer, I have a folder in Outlook called Registration Information. All emails are stored there with applicable passwords and registration keys.
    Each desktop computer or server has a post-in-note on the inside of a removable panel (but not blocking any ventilation holes). These are secured around the edges with shiny tape. When adding new software, I remove the panel and either hand write any new info, or create a new post-it, adding the new reg code to the machine
    The notebook puter has a gallon sized plastic bag which includes all disks and a list of serial numbers and reg codes. It lives in a file cabinet in my home office.

  14. I keep separate text files with all the purchase info, dates, s/n, codes, registration, order numbers, etc. in each distinct program folder. I also copy all email registration content into the text file. Back those up in various places and on different media.

    As for licenses themselves, I’ve weaned myself from those that require too much hassle, typically Corel, Adobe, and Microsoft products — they have terrible installations, and upgrading them is painful. The worst “license” offenders are typically any software that offers a “lifetime” license. More often than not, they don’t understand what “lifetime” means, and tend to define it as “the lifetime of ‘one’ version.” Only the XYplorer file manager and WinRAR have so far honored their stated lifetime licenses for software.

  15. For activation and validation keys I do something totally outrageous. I use a pen and paper to write them down. The paper is then stored in a sealed plastic sleeve. Any software downloaded is burned to disk the day it is obtained. Everything is then stored in a CD / DVD Binder. Any keys provided via email or on screen are also are printed to a pdf formatted document and saved to a Paperport folder that is backed up to a server.

    All passwords are stored in a TrueCrypt protected file that is backed up on the server and also a USB drive.

  16. Problem is not saving serial numbers of sofware. When compter is changed sofware reloaded it is a hassel to activate it. Internet activation is denied. I use Paperport 11 taht keeps Machin ID number for computer it is loaded on. Ifsofware is loaded on new computer I had a hard time explaining to the person I spoke with that I am the original purchaser

Comments are closed.