Speeding your way through Vista phone activation

I have a handful of retail Windows XP and Vista licenses that I regularly migrate between machines for testing purposes. As a result, I get to experience Windows Product Activation more than the average person, and I regularly have to use the activate-by-phone option when the Internet activation servers detect that my product ID appears to be in use already.

This week I refurbished an 18-month-old machine to get it ready for sale, using its original OEM-supplied copy of Windows Vista Home Premium. That freed up the license for the retail copy of Vista Ultimate that had previously been installed on that machine, which I then used to upgrade a notebook. (Still with me?)

Needless to say, Microsoft’s activation servers rejected my online attempt and prompted me to phone in. This time, however, the procedure was a little different from usual. Instead of being connected to an operator in India, I was able to complete the entire activation process using the automated system. Along the way, I learned a couple of tricks that might help you get through the process a little quicker.

I dialed the toll-free number as usual, listened to a spiel from the automated attendant, entered the installation ID (nine groups of six digits) from the Activation dialog box, and got the unsurprising message that I couldn’t be automatically activated. Previously, this would have meant waiting while I was transferred to a live operator, who would ask me a few questions to verify that I wasn’t trying to install the copy on a second machine in violation of the license terms, after which the voice on the other end would read me the numbers to enter in the Activation dialog box. This time, the automated attendant asked me a single question: How many computers is this copy of Windows Vista installed on. I said, “One,” and the automated attendant then proceeded to read the confirmation ID to me. In all, the process was probably 30 seconds faster than the old routine.

For those who’ve never seen it before, here’s what the Vista phone activation dialog box looks like (the numbers are in the right format but don’t represent an actual set of IDs):

Activating Windows Vista by phone

If you find yourself in this situation, here’s how to save a few seconds and make the process work smoother:

1. Use a headset or a speakerphone, if possible. That makes it easier to punch keys on the keypad.

2. Use the telephone keypad to enter the installation ID. The voice on the other end will accept voice input, but I’ve always had better luck tapping the keys.

3. The automated attendant is programmed to give a variety of cheery messages in between the groups of digits you enter. If you entered the numbers correctly, you’ll hear a “ding!” If the system didn’t register your numbers correctly or you punched the keys wrong, you’ll hear, “I didn’t catch that” or “Let’s try again,” giving you a chance to re-enter the 6-digit group. If you hear that ding, you don’t need to wait for the next prompt (typically something  like “OK, now enter the fourth group”); just begin entering the next group of digits. Continue that way until you’ve had all nine successfully confirmed.

4. When the system is ready to begin giving you the characters to enter in the confirmation ID boxes (eight groups of six digits), use the keypad. After each group, you’ll be prompted to say “back up” or “continue.” Forget about that. Instead, press 2 to confirm that you entered the numbers correctly or 1 if you want to hear the previous group again.

Normally, this process takes about six minutes. This time around, I was able to complete the whole activation sequence in just over five minutes.

If you’ve used the phone activation process recently, I’m curious about your experience. How did it go for you?

11 thoughts on “Speeding your way through Vista phone activation

  1. In XP the only problem i had with activation was that it wouldn’t recognize my voice maybe it’s my accent or automated system itself. Did not even know that i can use the phone keypad. Ok I bought a retail Vista Home Premium upgrade in 2007 and no longer installed in a computer since i got the other Vista ultimate. Can i sell the Windows Vista home premium upgrade online? I want to sell it but worried that the buyer will have a difficult time activating it.

  2. TJ, check the license agreement. It should tell you whether you have the right to sell your software.. Check for a section entitled Transfer to a Third Party.

  3. I found a cheat… After you start getting the activation numbers, hit cancel, then try an internet activation again.

    I stumbled across this by accident, my VoIP system dropped off in the middle of entering an activation code, I decided to activate later instead of calling back right away, so I killed the activation window. When I started over, the activation went through.

    I’ve since tried this intentionally a couple times, it works!

  4. Oh, now I have to try that! Although by the time you get to that stage you’re down to a minute or less of entering numbers, so it doesn’t really seem like much of a timesaver…

  5. I did this auto-activation via the voice robot, and found it to be less annoying than trying to understand somebody abroad.

    However, one of my Tech Net distros of Vista required activation for some reason, and the live person did not balk when I told her it was from there.

    Once, when trying to activate a MS Office Student edition, the person on the phone denied me, insisting that I could not use more than two versions. The license says three. This guy rudely dismissed me and told me that the call was finished.

  6. Mr. Bott,

    I’ve known about this for quite some time now. It is also this way with Office 2007 activation. Jim Alchin once commented that support personel and technicians are always instructed to assume the best; that customers are NOT trying to cheat activation.

    However, I’m concerned that unscruopulous individuals using this knowledge, will never buy another copy of activation-laden Microsoft software again.

    What do you think?

    BTW–Wrote about you on my blog here:


  7. I have used phone activation about 3 times, mainly when I have stripped out the OEM install and reloaded Vista with an OEM Product key. First two times was with foreign tech support (ARGGGGHHHHH!) and the last time was the robot. Overall, both were pretty upfront and easy, but I still prefer the robot.

  8. First and only time I’ve ever had to activate a Microsoft product by phone was an install of XP four months ago in a virtual machine. Got the automated system then, too, so it’s been around for a while.

    You can really screw Microsoft if you knew how trusting they were. Not just software, but also hardware. However, people who hate Microsoft tend not to use Microsoft products, so it sort of works out.

    I’m reminded of the Endicia.com article that explained how to cheat the US postal system by short-paying postage. So much of modern society is still based on trust, it’s amazing. (Financial system, especially — there’s a huge security gap there.)

  9. I’ve had to use the phone service three times. The most recent time was a few days ago. I was activating an old copy of XP and I never used the robot version before so I started typing on my keypad and when I got to the last row of numbers it would always balk at me on the 3rd number. I tried it at least 5 times using the keypad and my voice. So I broke down and let it connect me to the operator. All went well then but it was driving me up the wall that it would except that number especially since I had to go through 5 rows of numbers first each time..

  10. Ed,

    It’s not a huge time saver if the automated system is willing to read an activation code. It can be a big time saver if you hit a human who doesn’t enunciate.

    To Microsoft’s credit, it has been quite some time since I had a rep I couldn’t understand.

  11. I’m In Costa Rica, I’ve tried Online and Phone Activation.

    I’ve tried English Activation Phone System (automated) and Spanish Activation (Automated and Live) my call goes routed from Costa Rica to Argentina…

    Automated system have never failed me, and when it has failed it routed me to the Agent, who kindly asked me about on how many PC’s I’ve installed this windows copy; I’ve never got the other question that I can recall, but the activation process have never failed to me.

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