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Microsoft Licensing Explained

If any of you have tried to figure out Microsoft's licensing laws you know how frustrating and confusing it is. I have written a brief explanation below covering Windows XP, Vista and Server 2003.

Windows XP

Windows XP is pretty straight forward. When you buy a new PC it usually comes pre-loaded with Windows XP. If it is a desktop, the Certificate of Authenticity sticker is usually on the side of the case. For notebooks, the sticker is usually underneath. The sticker contains your Windows product key which is your license.

You are only allowed to use that license on one PC. You can transfer it to another PC but you must remove Windows from the originally PC first. You can activate Windows XP an unlimited amount of times. Please note that if it has been less than 120 days between activations you will have to call Microsoft to activate by phone.

Windows Vista

The same rules apply to Vista as to XP with some minor changes. You are allowed two activations over the Internet. If that gets exceeded you will need to call Microsoft to activate. Common reasons for needing to activate Windows again include: Reformatting your hard drive, Moving Windows to a different PC, A Major Hardware Change (normally changing the motherboard).

Windows Server 2003

This is where things really get confusing. First off lets briefly explain the two common uses for a server.

1. Application Server - Users log into the server to run applications directly installed on the server. Typical called Terminal Services.

2. File Server - Data drives are mapped from the server to the workstations for the purposes of having a common location for files and/or databases.

When you install Windows Server 2003 it needs to be activated just like XP and Vista do. When you buy the operating system it will usually comes with 5 user licenses. If you plan on using it as an application server (Terminal Services) those 5 licenses do NOT mean you can connect up to 5 users to the server. You still need to purchase Terminal Services User Licences for every user you plan on connecting.

Those 5 licenses that came with the operating system are Windows licenses. So let's say you have 10 users that need to connect. You then need 10 user licenses AND 10 terminal services user licenses for a total of 20 licenses for your 10 users. Confused yet? Well it gets better.

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