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How do I remove the activation prompt on a Windows 7 image

Ben-W
Ben-W asked
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I have recently created a Windows 7 image to be used within our company. Up until a few days ago it was working fine, however it has now started showing a 'Windows is not Activated' window when the user first logs on, and coming up with 'This copy of Windows is not genuine' in the bottom right hand corner of the screen just before you get to the logon screen.

I can only assume this is because it has been 30 days since I created the image, and the grace period has now expired. After a sysprep I would have expected the grace period to be reset so that you get a fresh 30 days after you image each machine, but this doesn't seem to be happening.

I am activating Windows using slmgr in the sysprep first logon commands. It is not possible to run these commands in the setupcomplete.cmd file because they would run under the local system account which has no proxy access.

So to get round this problem I have tried settings skiprearm to 1 in the sysprep file and running slmgr /rearm in the setupcomplete.cmd file. Unfortunately slmgr /rearm needs a reboot, and so the activation window still appears when the user logs on. I have tried adding shutdown /r /f to the setupcomplete.cmd file after the slmgr /rearm, but it just ignores it (although if I manually reboot before the user logs in for the first time everything works fine, the grace period is reset as expected, no activation window is displayed, and windows activates using my sysprep first login commands).

Any suggestions on how to get round this problem would be much appreciated.
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Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
You don't "get around" the problem. You activate windows with licenses you've purchased. If these are OEM machines then they have OEM keys that will work. If you have  purchased retail licenses then again, you have keys you will use (one per machine, they cannot be imaged).  If you purchased volume licenses then you have a MAK key or a key to set up a KMS server. Microsoft provides a central tool to deploy MAK keys to all of your machines so you don't have to touch each one. But, put simply, activation is a process that binds an install *to the hardware* so you can;t activate an image and then deploy it to different hardware and have the activation stick.

More info:

http://www.microsoft.com/licensing/existing-customers/product-activation-faq.aspx

Author

Commented:
Thanks for the response.

We have a volume licence key which I am using to activate Windows on each client after imaging it using slmgr /ipk and slmgr /ato when the user first logs on (this is following numerous guides on the internet on how to set up a Windows 7 image).

Surely there must be a way of having the grace period reset after each machine is imaged, so that you have time to activate it without the user getting activation prompts when they first log in? Or are you saying that this is not the correct process at all, and that I should be using a KMS Server?
Distinguished Expert 2018

Commented:
If you are going to use an image to perform windows deployments then you want to use an *UN*activated image. By using an image you made from an activated machine, WIndows sees the hardware changes on new machines and must assume it is pirated. That is where your problem lies and why you can't extend the grace period. You can only extend the grace period to activate an unactivated install, not an install that it things has already been activated on different hardware.

Author

Commented:
Thanks for the idea, but the machine I created the image on was not activated because it was never put on the internet. Also I can extend the grace period if I run slmgr /rearm after the build completes and then reboot, but I need this to work without a reboot so that the user is not faced with an activation window the first time they log on.
Distinguished Expert 2018
Commented:
I should clarify that strictly speaking, there is a difference between activation and validating the activation. The OS binds itself to hardware during the initial installation, so even if you never connected to the internet, at that point, the activation steps have already been taken. Connecting to the internet (or calling and manually finishing the activation process) only validates the activation that has already occurred.

In short, your image has already attached itself to the hardware that you initially used to make your image. Once this has happened you cannot rearm or prolong the activation process, as you have discovered. The problem isn't with your bootup procedure or the commands you are trying to run on first logon, but with your installation image.

I recommend downloading MDT2010: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/solutionaccelerators/dd407791.aspx

Read through the process of creating a non-activated hardware-neutral image. If done correctly, you do not need to rearm or jump through special hoops during installation. I've been using this process since Windows first started requiring activation (XP era) and I can gaurantee that it works if executed properly.

Author

Commented:
I see, thank you for the explanation, it sounds like that is the issue. I will read through the documentation you suggested and will work on a new image. If all goes well I will accept your solution.

Author

Commented:
Looks like that was the problem, I've created a new image from scratch and it's working fine.