Ways to Activate Windows XP

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 the second time around, no magic came to my assistance. The activation window informed me that I had used this key too many times. In fact, that was the first time I had really tried to use it. Until then, I had been attempting those other methods. The VM’s network connection had been disabled — until this point, I had not even gone online to activate. So apparently the activator was keeping count on its own, and was counting my experimental efforts as though I had been using the same product key to activate numerous different WinXP systems.

I was going 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 if the system was not yet activated, although someone said this indication might not always be there.

A third approach was to use 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 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 would be close enough.

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. For whatever reason, this approach did not work for me.

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, activated 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.

Other Methods

I did not explore further, except that I did develop a search to search for methods other than those described above. It tentatively appeared that there might be a number of alternate activation methods.

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