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There seems to be little information about the way the activation system works in Windows 8, especially for consumer versions of Windows (Core/Pro, not Enterprise). I already know that Microsoft now requires you to enter a key before even starting the installation process, and that it tries to connect to the Internet and activate this key as soon as possible.

Sometimes, though, you don't have an Internet connection when installing Windows 8. What then? Can you install Windows? Can you use it? What are the limitations? How long can you keep your copy of Windows usable without activation?

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This nicely carries on the discussion from here and here, but IMO needs a longer test to confirm if the user experience degrades significantly after some time. BTW, did you try and move the date forward? –  Karan Nov 3 '12 at 1:10
    
I installed without a key, and no nag screen yet, but there are weird issues like when I install 7-zip (worked in enterprise trial) it does not integrate into the context menu or set file associations, and I cannot make it, more testing. –  Moab Nov 3 '12 at 1:36
    
PeaZip installed just fine, not sure what the deal is with 7-ZIP. –  Moab Nov 3 '12 at 1:55
    
I linked to this question in my question, I am sure there will be interest in both as time goes on. –  Moab Nov 3 '12 at 2:16
    
@Karan: yes, I changed the date both in Windows (2 years forward) and in BIOS (another 2 years). No immediate effect. –  DzinX Nov 3 '12 at 7:47

5 Answers 5

up vote 19 down vote accepted

With all the uncertainty and doubts, I decided to conduct an experiment. I installed a clean Windows 8 Pro copy (a copy that I own and with a key that wasn't used anywhere yet) on a computer without Internet access. Here's what I found.

You don't have to activate Windows 8

  1. It is true that the installer requires you to enter a valid Windows 8 key before you can continue with installation.
  2. However, the key isn't activated at install time and the installation goes just fine without Internet connection (or calling Microsoft).
  3. After the installation finishes, you can create your local account (connecting Microsoft Accounts is unavailable because there's no Internet connection) and you land in the Start Screen, which isn't any different from the Start Screen of an activated copy.

Don't expect your life to be easy, though. Microsoft will try to encourage you to activate your copy of Windows 8.

Reminders and Limitations

  1. The first reminder you'll get will probably be an Action Center tooltip in the Desktop Mode:

    Action Center tooltip

    You can safely ignore this tooltip and nothing bad will happen.

  2. Another reminder you'll probably see quite often is every time you open the PC Settings screen. When you do, you're greeted with a new section:

    PC Settings reminder

    Again, you can safely ignore this and click any other settings section on the left-hand side of the screen. Except that...

  3. Personalisation settings section is disabled:

    Personalisation settings disabled

    The disabled settings include:

    • Your lock screen wallpaper and apps
    • Start Screen colour and background
    • Your account picture

    The message says:

    You need to activate Windows before you can personalise your PC.

    I heard there are some workarounds for this, but as this was not a part of my experiment, I will not describe them here.

  4. Every couple of hours, you'll see a full-screen activation request:

    Full-screen activation request

    To dismiss it, you have to click Go to PC settings and then you're back to the screenshot from point 2. Still, you can exit this screen normally, with Win or Win+D, or any other way you like.

    I wasn't able to pinpoint the exact frequency with which this overlay appears, but it's certainly more than 5 hours and less than 7 hours, so I guess it appears every 6 hours.

  5. When you try to enter a command to show the status of activation:

    %windir%\system32\cmd /c slmgr/xpr
    

    You get a not very informing message, saying that Windows is in Notification mode:

    Notification mode

    EDIT: As vhanla notes in the comments, if you run:

    %windir%\system32\cmd /c slmgr/dli
    

    you'll see:

    Name: Windows(R), Professional edition
    Description: Windows(R) Operating System, RETAIL channel
    Partial Product Key: XXXXX
    License Status: Notification
    Notification Reason: 0xC004F009 (grace time expired)

    But even though the grace time is already expired from the start, Windows continues to work correctly.

So... I guess that's it. There are no other differences from the activated copy of Windows 8 Pro that I found. Of course, because I didn't enable Internet access, online-related activities like installing new apps from Windows Store or obtaining system updates obviously don't work.

TL;DR

  • You can install Windows 8 Pro without an Internet connection
  • Windows 8 Pro without activation is usable
  • There is probably no time limit for activation of Windows 8
  • You'll get occasional reminders to activate, but they are safe to ignore
  • The only thing that's disabled is Personalisation Settings screen.
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I suspect this is like it's been for a while, wherein eventually it'll start locking down functionality and complaining a lot, but you're talking months and months. –  Shinrai Nov 2 '12 at 22:35
    
Maybe. But if so, don't you think there would be some indication of this somewhere? A counter, anything? Right now I'm quite positive nothing like this will happen. –  DzinX Nov 2 '12 at 22:37
    
I don't know of a counter in Windows 7, but it certainly starts to nag you like crazy after 4 months or so. –  Shinrai Nov 2 '12 at 22:40
    
@Shinrai: Win7 had a 30-day countdown timer, but could be rearmed 3 more times for a total of ~120 days. Win8 OTOH is officially not supposed to have any grace period as per MS. –  Karan Nov 3 '12 at 1:08
    
You don't need to specify %windir% at the beginning of the line. Because C:\Windows is part of the Path variable. Any idea what the "gr" in "slmgr" stands for? The "slm" alone stands for "Software Licensing Management". –  sammyg Sep 9 at 16:07

System Restore is Disabled (greyed out) while un-activated. (Windows 8 PRO Full RTM)

I also noticed Auto Play settings are all set to "choose a default", not sure if this default settings for an activated system. They can be changed however.

.

enter image description here

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On my system, it was disabled, but I had no problem enabling it, see screenshot. You must have made some other configuration changes. –  DzinX Nov 3 '12 at 7:55
    
Nope, clean install, no changes, hmmmm, thanks for posting, what distribution of W8 do you have? –  Moab Nov 3 '12 at 16:45
    
I have a Windows 8 Pro British English RTM. In general, I think Windows would notify you if this field was disabled because of lack of activation, as it does in other places. –  DzinX Nov 3 '12 at 16:52
    
I found a registry key, deleted it and now it is not greyed out and turned itself on after reboot. –  Moab Nov 3 '12 at 16:56
1  
I will delete this answer if no one else reports the same issue in a few days. –  Moab Nov 3 '12 at 17:08

You won't be able to download something from the store or log on, and you'll be able to use only 30% of Windows 8's possibilities. You will receive notifications, and about a week or month later, Windows will only work for one hour, then restart again and again.

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Due to a re-installation, my Windows 8 doesn't activate. It has been working without activation for a year now. The prompt comes up every couple of hours, but it seems to be actively stopped by streamlining programs such as Razer. You're fine to go indefinitely, methinks.

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Activating it will just allow locked options to be enabled. And to ensure that you do have an original copy of windows 8.

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