Do you really need a product key to use Windows 10?
Windows 10 is approaching the end of its life. The illustrious operating system was launched in 2015 and is set to reach the end of its support phase in October 2025. That means that Windows 10 has less than three years of viability left. However, the old girl still has life in her yet. Therefore, articles pertaining to Windows 10 are still relevant. In that spirit, the following article will clear up whether you need a product key to use Windows 10.
TL;DR: Do you need a Windows 10 product key?
No, you don’t need a product key to install and use Windows 10. However, there are certain concessions you’ll need to make. For instance, without activating Windows 10 with a product key, you lose the ability to change the background on your desktop through the Settings app.
How to use Windows 10 without a product key
Step 1: Download Windows 10
Naturally, the first thing you’ll need to do is download Windows 10. Microsoft lets you do this without entering a product key, so this is relatively easy and straightforward. Simply head to the Windows 10 download page on our website, and you’ll be taken to a direct link to get Windows 10. If you need to install Windows 10 on a different device to where you download the file from, you may need to use a utility like USB Bootable for Windows. If you prefer the more official route, try the Windows Media Creation Tool.
Step 2: Install Windows 10
Once you’ve downloaded the operating system, you’ll need to install it. Just start the installation process as you usually would and keep a lookout for the screen that requests a product key. All you need to do here is head down to the bottom of the interface and hit ‘I don’t have a product key.’ Hitting this will still let you continue the installation. You’re likely going to see another interface during the installation process asking for a product key. Don’t stress, there’s usually a similar link you can hit to skip the registration process.
By installing Windows 10 without registering the product with a product key, you’ll have the opportunity to install either Windows 10 Home Edition, or Windows 10 Pro. However, you should keep in mind that should you want to upgrade to a paid version of the OS, it will most likely be more affordable to choose to upgrade to Windows 10 Home Edition. No matter which version you initially select, the product will install as it usually does.
This wouldn’t be a comprehensive article without listing the various drawbacks of using Windows 10 without a license. Even though it’s possible, it might be a little less than ideal.
Windows 10 won’t activate unless you use an activation key (product key). However, you’ll still largely be able to use your PC as you normally would. In the bygone days of Windows XP, Microsoft would physically prevent you from being able to use the OS without activating it. It would trigger Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) to revoke access to your entire PC. Nowadays, Windows will just moan at you every now and then.
In the beginning, it’s very likely that you won’t even notice a difference. In due time, your PC will start nagging you. The first thing you’ll notice is a watermark at the bottom right-hand side of your screen. Then, you’ll start seeing a ‘Windows isn’t activated. Activate Windows now.’ link underneath the interface of your Settings app. Luckily, there are no pop-ups or notifications involved.
However, while there won’t be many irritations in terms of notifications, you will have to contend with a slight decrease in usability. For instance, if you head into the Personalization screen in your Settings app, you’ll see text that reads ‘You need to activate Windows before you can personalize your PC.’ This means you can’t change your background, you can’t select a new accent color, you can’t change your lock screen, and you’re stuck with the standard Windows 10 theme and Start menu configuration.
There’s a way around the wallpaper change, though. If you head into your gallery, you’ll still be able to right-click on an image and set it as your wallpaper that way. Another way in which Microsoft seems to have grown more lenient toward people using the OS without registering it is that Windows 7 used to kick you back to a blank background after a short while if you used the gallery to set a new one. Windows 10 doesn’t do this; at least, it hasn’t yet. Additionally, if you head to C:\Windows\Web in your file explorer, you’ll find all of the stock Windows 10 Wallpapers.
Is it worth it?
In all honesty, there’s not much to gripe over when using Windows 10 as an unregistered product. You’ll still have the core functionality of your PC, and you’ll only be bothered by alerts when you head into Settings and try and change things. However, a future Windows 10 update could change this. But, given that the OS has a little over three years left in service, it’s unlikely that Microsoft would do you dirty in that way.Advertisement