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I have just purchased a Thinkpad x1 Carbon that comes with windows 8 64 bit. I haven't turned it on yet, but I plan to remove the windows install and replace it with Debian (after backing up the windows install 'just in case').

I would like to play around with Windows 8 from within a vm, the vm would be running on Debian, the original install that came with the laptop would be removed (so I would only be using 1 copy of Windows 8).

I was wondering if it is possible to use the 'copy' of windows 8 that came with my laptop or if I would have to purchase another. For older windows versions I think it was possible to download a new copy and use my existing activation key.

Is this possible to do in windows 8?, and if so, how?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Can I legally install Windows 8 in a virtual machine?

Yes. You can install any version of Windows 8 in a virtual machine, using virtualization software on any platform. (If the VM is running a properly licensed copy of a recent Windows version, you can use the upgrade edition of Windows 8; in most circumstances, the PUL System Builder edition is the correct choice.)

Note that you cannot share licenses between the host PC and a virtual instance. The following text appears in section 1(f):

If you use virtualization software, including Client Hyper-V, to create one or more virtual computers on a single computer hardware system, each virtual computer, and the physical computer, is considered a separate computer for purposes of this agreement. This license allows you to install only one copy of the software for use on one computer, whether that computer is physical or virtual. If you want to use the software on more than one virtual computer, you must obtain separate copies of the software and a separate license for each copy | Source

So it is perfectly legal to run a VM on the machine that has the OEM license of Windows 8. However, as others have stated - due to OEM Licenses being tied to specific hardware (occasionally) activation may or may not work.

After a bit more digging, it appears the if you purchase an OEM license (Windows 8 System Builder), not the one tied to the machine preinstalled, this is kosher. However, there is nothing that I can find that states you can transfer a preinstalled OEM license from hardware to a VM.

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Don't forget this is a OEM copy: Under this agreement, we grant you the right to install and run one copy only on the computer with which you acquired the software (the licensed computer). This becomes a little more grey, since it says that each virtual and physical computer is considered a separate computer - it is unclear (to me) whether 'the licensed [OEM] computer' refers to 'physical computer' (in which case a VM would be fine, as long as it's on the laptop) or just 'computer' (where virtual and physical are considered separate)... – Bob Dec 10 '12 at 1:45
...(in which case you cannot run a virtual copy unless the OEM copy was sold with the virtual computer). I think it's the former, but I am not sure. Additionally, you may run into issues with hardware id locks applied to OEM software. License terms here. I Am Not A Lawyer. – Bob Dec 10 '12 at 1:45
@Bob - can't find the link now, but I recall something that did claim you were allowed to install your OEM Windows license to a VM, as long as the VM was hosted on the OEM machine and you were not still using that OEM license elsewhere on the machine. – Joel Coehoorn Dec 10 '12 at 1:49
@Bob - yes, this was for Windows 8, and the reason I remember it is because it is indeed a new provision, something that is definitely not allowed with Windows 7. – Joel Coehoorn Dec 10 '12 at 1:52
If you have that link @Joel I would be very interested. – cjh Dec 10 '12 at 1:52

IIRC, it is legal to use the OEM license that came with your computer in a VM, but only as long as the VM runs on that computer and the OEM license is not (and never was) used on that computer. You are not allowed to take that VM and ever move it to another host, and you are not allowed to "transfer" the OEM license to a virtual machine after accepting the license agreement and using the installation (not license) that came installed directly to the system.

Just one warning: even though this is legal, it may not work. OEM licenses are sometimes keyed to the motherboards of a specific OEM manufacturer, such that they Windows will not activate successfully unless it is installed directly (ie: not part of VM) on that specific brand of computer.

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The motherboard keying is often a key stored in the BIOS (known as SLP), which some virtualisation software can emulate. I believe there are some discussions on this in the VirtualBox forums. All copies of Windows (retail and OEM) also calculate a hardware hash, which will require reactivation if the hardware is detected to have changed significantly. Here are some details on different activation methods. It's for XP, but I believe later versions use similar (perhaps more advanced) methods. – Bob Dec 10 '12 at 1:58
Microsoft Answers question on differences in activation methods between XP and 7. Microsoft document on activation in Windows Vista. I can't seem to find an equivalent for Windows 8, but I believe it has not changed drastically. – Bob Dec 10 '12 at 2:01
And, as @cjh said, a source for your statement that it is legal would be nice. – Bob Dec 10 '12 at 2:02
Do you have a link to a Microsoft page stating this? – cjh Dec 10 '12 at 2:03
@Bob - I agree... I wish I had saved that page when I was reading it. – Joel Coehoorn Dec 10 '12 at 2:10

The only way I can see for you to legally use Windows 8, and then only on the computer for which you bought this OEM license, is if Windows was never activated.

This hypothesis of mine is based on the Microsoft license section 1(f) :

This license allows you to install only one copy of the software for use on one computer, whether that computer is physical or virtual.

So the only solution I see is to buy an OEM computer with an OEM Windows 8 version that is not (yet) activated or that only activates itself on first boot. In the second case, if you make sure that there is no Internet connection, the activation then becomes impossible even if you do boot the computer.

You would then need to capture the unactivated Windows 8 computer as a virtual machine and then only activate the VM, never the original computer. As long as you only run that VM on that computer, and as far as my (rather lacking) legal understanding goes, you would still be within the legal terms of the EULA.

I have had very good experience with the free VMware vCenter Converter for capturing VMs with their exact hardware. However, I never did this with Windows 8, so I can guarantee nothing at all.

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That will not work, VMware vCenter Converter does not capture the hardware, it only capture the software and modify the core drivers of the system. -- trying to activate will fail when the activation notice the different motherboard. – sharp12345 Feb 12 '13 at 23:38
@sharp12345: That isn't my experience. I once captured an activated computer, and Windows in the VM didn't even ask for reactivation! – harrymc Feb 13 '13 at 8:41
Windows activation relies on the BIOS. -- It should not work if it was an OEM activation, it might have been retail or volume license. – sharp12345 Feb 13 '13 at 11:58
@sharp12345: In that case one can try adding to the .vmx file: SMBIOS.reflectHost=TRUE. This requires that your computer model is known to VMware. – harrymc Feb 13 '13 at 12:25
I do not think that is enough to reflect to the guest os what the windows is looking for, afaik it only reflect the text labels. -- I googled SMBIOS.reflectHost=TRUE windows 7 oem and got this result saying that it doesn't work:… -- if that does work, it would allow you to use the oem license on an unlimited number of virtual machines. – sharp12345 Feb 13 '13 at 13:34

No, it will not work.

Windows OEM keys are tied to the specific manufacturer motherboard and will not be installable on any other motherboard (real or virtual).

Also getting a system builder key is not a good idea, because it will be tied to the virtual hardware after you do the first install, so if you tried to totally change the virtualization software, you might have hard time activating.

The only choice here is to get retail license.

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OEM keys are not always slaved to manufacturer hardware fingerprints. As recently as 2012, many batches of Dell/HP computers shipped with OEM software without this restriction. – Zac B Feb 14 '13 at 5:15

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