Ways to Activate Windows XP


How to Tell if WinXP Is Activated
The WPA.DBL Activation Method
The Registry Edit Method
The OEM Key Method
When You Can’t Get into Windows XP
Other Methods



I had just installed Windows XP x32 SP3 in a VirtualBox virtual machine (VM), so as to run WinXP on Linux. Now I had to activate it. This turned out to be more complicated than I had expected.

It took me a couple of tries to develop a WinXP VM that worked the way I wanted. The first time, WinXP became activated by magic. Not really, but I was not quite sure what I had done to activate it. It could have been just the official method; it may have been something else. I was not entirely sure. But after that first time, no magic came to my assistance. At some point, the activation window informed me that I had used this key too many times. It seemed that was incorrect, but I didn’t want to argue; I just wanted a solution.

I intended to choose the phone activation alternative. In fact, I used Skype to dial that number. But this was my first time using Skype on Linux, so this was the time to discover that the headset I used for Skype was not being recognized by Linux. That was going to be a whole separate issue to troubleshoot. I could have used another phone to activate, of course, but then I realized that I might find myself having to activate again, one or more times, until I got this WinXP VM configured the way I liked. In addition, I wanted to avoid going online if possible. I was using this WinXP VM to virtualize Windows applications; that called for a system with a bare minimum of processes running; therefore I didn’t have antivirus software installed.

So: was there another way of activating, other than the usual approach of letting the activator go online, or calling a number for Microsoft’s permission to install? A search led, in fact, to several alternate methods. I decided to explore those, and this post was born.

How to Tell if WinXP Is Activated

The first question was whether I even needed to activate. I had noticed that WinXP would put a keyring icon in the system tray (at the lower right corner of the screen) and also at various places in the Start Menu, such as at the top of the Start > All Programs list. But it seemed that that icon would disappear, sometimes, after even an unsuccessful activation effort.

Another approach was to go into Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Information > System Summary > look for Activation Status. This would supposedly notify the user to activate the system if needed; but someone said this indication might not always be there, even if the system was not yet activated. One time, I noticed that Start > Control Panel > System said that Windows was registered to me, and yet Start > All Programs still included an Activate Windows icon — but when I clicked on it, it said Windows was already activated. (Confusing!)

A different approach called for Start > Run > %systemroot%\system32\oobe\msoobe.exe /a (or simply oobe/msoobe /a). That command would usually trigger the activation window. Choosing “Yes, let’s activate Windows over the Internet now” at that point (if that option was offered) might lead past the activation process, if the machine was already activated. Or at least that was what had seemed to happen to me, the first time, when I say that my system was registered by magic.

The WPA.DBL Activation Method

The alternate activation method I tried first was mentioned by Lifehacker and detailed by Online Tech Tips. The latter explained that I could activate WinXP simply by copying C:\Windows\System32\wpa.dbl from the previous installation of Windows XP on this same computer. They warned that it would not work on a different machine. I had already activated WinXP on a previous VirtualBox VM, identical in all regards except that, this time, I set the virtual hard disk drive (HDD) to be 20GB rather than 10GB. I was not sure whether that difference would make this appear to be a different machine.

In this method, I needed to boot into Safe Mode. Normally, I would do that by hitting F8 as the computer started to boot. But in the case of this VM, the advice was rather to boot into Normal Mode and then go into Start > Run > msconfig > BOOT.INI tab > check /SAFEBOOT > OK > Restart. Once I was in Safe Mode, Online Tech Tips said, I needed to use Windows Explorer to go into C:\Windows\System32 > rename wpa.dbl to be wpa.old > copy in the wpa.dbl from my previous installation. Then I had to go back to the BOOT.INI tab and uncheck /SAFEBOOT > OK > Restart. That put me back in Normal Mode. That method did not work. Upon reboot, I got a message:

Windows Product Activation

This copy of Windows must be activated with Microsoft before you can log on. Do you want to activate Windows now?

Normally, I would have 30 days after installing WinXP before activation would be compelled. In this case, it seemed that I had triggered this message by trying to activate in the normal way and getting that message (above) that I had used this product key too many times. When I clicked No at this point, I expected to be locked out of the system. But instead, I was allowed to proceed into WinXP as usual.

I guessed that this method had not worked, for me, because of that change from a 10GB to 20GB system drive in the VM. It was also possible that my previous activation efforts had somehow muddied the waters.

Incidentally, use of msconfig had now resulted in a System Configuration Utility message, each time I rebooted, informing me that I had to go back into msconfig > General tab > select Normal Startup > OK > Restart.

The Registry Edit Method

Next on the list, we had a method explained by WikiHow, which offered these remarks:

You can bypass the activation process by editing the Windows registry and using an OEM key, though this technically violates your license agreement with Microsoft. Only use the following if you are unable to activate and you have a legally-purchased copy of Windows XP.

Although WikiHow described the process differently, I interpreted their advice as encouraging me to begin with this registry edit file:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\WPAEvents]
; Original setting:
; "OOBETimer"=hex:eb,54,8c,c6,0e,45,17,59,55,5b,f4,30

I pasted those lines into Notepad, named the file WinXPActivation.reg, and ran it in WinXP. It indicated that the registry had been modified successfully, and when I ran Start > Run > regedit, I could see those new values at the registry location stated in that file. Now, WikiHow said, at that same registry address, I had to right-click on the WPAEvents folder > Permissions > select SYSTEM > check the Deny Full Control box > OK > Yes > exit regedit. Next, I had to enter this command: %systemroot%\system32\oobe\msoobe.exe /a (or simply oobe/msoobe /a). This was, as above, the command to start the activator. WikiHow said that, if I had followed the foregoing steps correctly, I would now see this message:

Activate Windows

Windows Product Activation

Windows is already activated. Click OK to exit.

That is what I saw. So it worked. It had not worked for me on a previous try. Presumably I had messed up some detail in the process on that earlier attempt.

The OEM Key Method

That same WikiHow article said that, if the Registry Key Method did not work for me, I could proceed with another approach that might. This method started where the previous one left off. If the oobe/msoobe /a command didn’t give me “Windows is already activated,” then it would presumably give me the usual activation options: activate over the Internet now, activate by telephone now, or remind me to activate every few days.

The advice here was to choose “Yes, I want to telephone a customer service representative to activate Windows.” Next, apparently there would be an option to Change Product Key. At that point, the user would enter this product key: THMPV 77D6F 94376 8HGKG VRDRQ. A search indicated that a lot of people were familiar with that key as an alternative for activating Windows XP. After entering that key, WikiHow said the user should click the Update button and then select Remind Me Later. Then restart the computer and go to Start > Run > %system. I had no idea how that sequence worked, and I did not test it, but that was the end of the WikiHow advice. (Note: this advice does not appear in the updated version of the WikiHow page, but it does appear in an archived version.)

When You Can’t Get into Windows XP

The other methods discussed in this post required the user to use tools available inside a working WinXP installation. Later, however, I encountered a situation where I was not able to get past the login screen. This happened with Windows XP installed in a VirtualBox virtual machine (VM). The first thing I got, after booting the VM, was this:

Windows Product Activation

This copy of Windows must be activated with Microsoft before you can log on. Do you want to activate Windows now?

I clicked Yes. I got a window titled “Windows Product Activation” and a statement, “Windows is already activated. Click OK to exit.” But when I clicked OK, it logged me off and put me back at the login screen; and if I tried to log in, it presented me with the same question again: “Do you want to activate Windows now?”

A search for solutions to this infinite product activation loop led to recommendations that started with going into Safe Mode. To get into Safe Mode, the advice was familiar: hit F8 as soon as Windows starts to boot. For a VirtualBox VM, that was trickier than on a native Windows installation. First, I had to click on the correct icon — there were two, and at first I chose the wrong one — to tell VirtualBox to stop showing messages about the mouse and keyboard when the VM started. Also, I had to make sure the VM was capturing my keystrokes (i.e., that I was not sending keystrokes into the host machine when I hit the keyboard). It seemed, in addition, that I had to start hitting F8 before the VM booted, and keep hitting it, not holding it down.

It took multiple tries, but eventually I got past those hindrances. At that point, I was looking at the Windows Advanced Options Menu — the one in black and white, offering a dozen options, starting with Safe Mode. I selected Safe Mode and hit Enter. It showed me only one installation: Microsoft Windows XP Professional. I hit Enter. After a few moments of loading files, I was now looking at the Safe Mode screen.

From that point, the advice offered by WikiHow was, in effect, to go to Start > Run or WinKey-R. Either way, that gave me a Run box. There, I typed rundll32.exe syssetup,SetupOobeBnk and clicked OK. Nothing seemed to happen. I hoped it had done something. I went to Start > Turn Off Computer > Restart. This time, Windows XP started up normally, without an activation barrier. The methods described above confirmed that Windows was now activated, and I had no further problems after rebooting.

Other Methods

I did not explore further, except that I did develop a search to help me find methods other than those described above. It tentatively appeared that there might be a number of alternate activation methods. There may also be something useful for this purpose in my separate post on Windows 7 activation in a virtual machine.

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41 Responses to Ways to Activate Windows XP

  1. kpkilburn says:

    Great post. I’m having a similar problem now. I have a valid product key, so how can I enter it via the Registry? Is the hex value simply the 33-digit number? Yes, that’s another problem. My key is 33 digits, not 25 or 20 as usual. When I installed, it came up with 5 blanks to enter the key into (25 digits). Any idea why it would do that? I’m running VirtualBox on a Mac if that matters.

  2. Cody Kolbinskie says:

    The Reg edit method worked like a charm. thank you so much! now I can finally do my Windows XP videos

  3. Chris says:

    The reg edit way worked for me too! Running Xp in VirtualBox on Mac!


  4. Eduardo Olea says:

    The Regedit method worked for me too, but …
    I have a genuine XP professional CD that I want to run on the Virtual Machine as the old computer where I used to run it is almost gone.

    I have installed it in the VM and after the registry modification I am able to start the XP machine without any message requesting it’s activation for several days, but … when the countdown for activation comes to about 7 days, i.e. about more or less 20 some days after installation, y start getting messages telling me that there are 7 days left for activation. But it´s impossible to activate it online because Microsoft servers for this task cannot be reached. I suspect they are all out of service. Finally when the countdown comes to zero days left, that’s it. XP cannot be activated, it stops running and I need to re-install it again and begin from square one, again.
    I have done this twice, now.
    FYI –
    1) No problems to access the internet from the web browser, That’s why I suspect Microsoft servers must be out.for online activation.
    2) When I run the “oobe/msoobe /a” from Start / Run command line, I get a window telling me that XP is already active and asks for confirmation with an OK button.

    Any new ideas/tips to extend the life of an XP installation on the virtual machine beyond those 30 days of grace.
    Sorry for this lengthy post and thank you all for these tips.

    • Ray Woodcock says:

      Eduardo — can you perhaps make an image of an XP installation elsewhere and restore it inside the VM? I don’t remember how picky XP is, regarding dissimilar hardware. I was never too good at taking advantage of Acronis’s ability to restore to different hardware, but possibly that would help too. Or, I wonder if a VM on a different computer would have the same problem. If you could get a VM working one place, you could just copy it over to the other.

    • Zach Clayton says:

      Eduardo – Do you still have an issue with activation? We are experiencing the same issue inside our VM after an XP install. Thanks.

  5. Chris says:

    Registry edit method worked for me! I now have a virtual machine on which I can maintain XP software. Thanks Ray.

  6. Gernot66 says:

    It worked for me with the regedit like for you first time i missed it or whatever, i had the info from a different site. now it’s fine, recently i own only a old machine, the graphiccard i use is outdated and a win7 i.e. needs DX11 while the card only understands up to 9. erm yes i own a different graphic card but it won’t work on this board. however i still own XP and one can be still creative o a old machine.

  7. Bob says:

    Hi Ray, thanks for your thread. I had to re image my PC as my HDD failed and I need to activate Win XP SP3. I followed the steps described in the regedit method and although I get the screen that XP is already activated I still get the message that I only have 2 days to activate my software. The most frustrating part is that I have a legitimate serial key that should be working. I also tried the OEM method but the key is not accepted once I enter it.
    Do you have anything else to recommend for my specific case? This is really blocking me.

  8. John says:

    Great work. Registry edit method worked for me! Thanks Ray.

  9. Hi – is anyone having an issue with the RegEdit method, where upon reboot, it reverts back to the old registry value? Seems to be happening to me on the Virtualbox VM platform using an old key I had from a retail purchase. Nice information – thank you for getting us this far!

  10. Piero Serra says:

    Regedit method worked! Thank you 🙂

  11. Rick Wonders says:

    Same problem activating XP in Windows 7 so I could still play AGE of Empires. Regedit hack worked great. Thanks

  12. roy says:

    how can i activate my windows XP using regedit?

  13. Sam says:

    Regedit method doesn’t work for my XP Pro Sp3, after, changing Windows date to simulate 30 days passed. The Activation window is still displayed !!!!!!

  14. Joey says:

    This worked like a charm. Got it in one shot. Thank you.

  15. Coupi says:

    Merci beaucoup la méthode du registre fonctionne parfaitement. 🙂
    Xp => Virtualbox sous Linux Mint.

  16. Steve H says:

    fresh install of xp sp3 with no product key
    internet connection
    ran windows product key updater tool
    type in Keys
    Updates and activates at same time

  17. BabyBoo says:

    Registry edit method worked! Thank you!

  18. MilesR says:

    Regedit worked for me, XP running under Hyper-V for required software we needed that has not been updated since 1997.

  19. Anonymous says:

    thank you so much!!! This worked like a charm!

  20. Dustin Tourkee says:

    Awesome. Regedit method, strange though it seems, worked first time! Can’t thank you and WikiHow enough.

  21. Dmitri Fetisov says:

    Add another vote for the regedit method. I converted a standalone machine to VMware format for use on an ESXi box. Originally, I also encountered the ‘you can’t log in until you activate’ scenario. Fortunately I had a second XP key, which, although I was able to log in using that one, I still got nastygrams from Windows about ‘incomplete activation’. After the registry hack, everything works perfectly. Thanks for the info!

  22. Jiri Tichy says:

    WinXP Pro SP3 on VB-VM: Registry edit work for 1 day.Then, after restart next day, the old numbers in oobe timer were back to original and the activation icon appeared again….several times same result… I have original CD with product key…..not sure if that needs to be put in, as I have asked for”remind me later” option when activation window came up…

  23. Thank you! This helped a lot!

  24. TonyW says:

    A few comments…

    The OOBETimer registry hack only stops the “you have X days to activate” messages and resets the activation timer for another 28 days, this can be done a few times but eventually it won’t let you log in. This is only good for systems where a legit key has been used and XP is activated but you still get false activation messages.

    The login screen can be bypassed to get to the Windows desktop by using the Narrator exploit – on login screen hold down the Windows key and press U key… use Google to find more info.

    If you have a legit CD key then internet activation still works on a clean install but only with Internet Explorer 8 installed and all “Check for certificate revocations” internet options disabled.

    If you can’t get a legit CD key then easiest option is to use a pirated Volume Licence Key, a Chinese cracked version of XP etc.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Window registry entry via the reg file worked like a charm. Thanks a lot!

  26. Anonymous says:

    I had installed WinXP into a dual-boot with Win7. Windows accepted my license key and said everything was okay, and it would work, but kept asking me to active it. I tried the registry edit hack, but got into the Please Activate, Already Activated, loop. So I used the When You Can’t Get into Windows XP hack and it worked fine. Big 🙂

  27. Anonymous says:

    Editing registry worked for me in VirtualBox

  28. Fraz says:

    Ended up in the activation loop. Finally came across your tips and tricks, where Safe mode > rundll32.exe syssetup,SetupOobeBnk worked a treat! Many thanks!

  29. mcg78 says:

    Thanks a lot !

  30. Derek says:

    I have win xp sp3 installed from legal MS CD software with code and the regedit did remove the key symbol in the taskbar but still asked for registration. I started in safe mode and did the Rundll32……………….etc. and so far it’s stopped asking for registration when I start it up. I only use my old laptop for my DAW recording so it is not connected to the internet nor have antivirus software so runs nicely without all the bloatware you normally would have on an internet PC.
    XP FOREVER ,!!!

  31. Chris Ardy says:

    Thanks for this Ray. I recently changed, I won’t say upgraded, from Win 7 Pro to 10 and Microsoft has helpfully got rid of the easy way to run XP in a virtual machine! I couldn’t get the Hyper V method to work in a usable manner so I went to VMware which works relatively easily and well. I then installed a legal copy of XP but couldn’t activate it through Microsoft. I eventually found how to activate via regedit and everything looked well until suddenly the activation needed window reappeared and started counting down despite windows already being activated . However I am very pleased that your last suggestion seems to have worked and the countdown has disappeared. Lets hope it doesn’t come back.
    It is very annoying that Microsoft hasn’t come good on it’s promise to remove the activation requirement for XP so that people can run old programs that are still useful without all this aggravation.

    • Kyle Hill says:

      MS is phone people. I am not sure how it passed over people’s heads but under WIN 8 all the PC people were fired and Nokia people were brought in in a massive buy out.

      Meaning all MS has now is phone programmers and they never grew up with computer stuff. They only know simplified phone language and apps.

  32. Olito says:

    I have “inherited” an XP OEM system on an old PC – and the PC broke down. The programs can only run on XP (and no installation disks). I have installed an image of the disk in VBOX and the system runs – for 30 days. I have not succeeded in making the licence permanent, after the 30 days the activation is needed. During the 30 days I have tried the mentioned methods a lot of times with no luck. I have a non-OEM XP installation CD. Is it possible to change the type of XP without a new installation?

  33. Chris Ardy says:

    Since my earlier reply I have run into the 3 times limit and haven’t been able to overcome it and have reinstall XP and am now on my second reinstall.

  34. Olito says:

    I installed another copy of XP on top of the old one. And it has run from October. But – knock on wood – I’m a bit nervous every time I start the system.

  35. Anonymous says:

    I have now managed to get XP working in VM for just over 3 months with no problem, hopefully it will last. Instead of keep reinstalling XP from an old CD I decided to use an ISO image of XP Pro (I have windows 10 Pro) downloaded from the USA Microsoft site. When the installation asked for a key I used the first one from a Google search and it worked ok and has been good ever since.

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