Do you really need a product key to use Windows 10?

Shaun
Dec 29, 2022
Updated • Dec 28, 2022
Windows, Windows 10
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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

Do you need a product key to install 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

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Step 2: Install Windows 10

Do you need a product key to 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. 

The drawbacks

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. 

Do you need a product key to install Windows 10

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. 

Do you need a product key to install Windows 10

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. 

Do you need a product key to install Windows 10

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.

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Comments

  1. Anonymous said on December 29, 2022 at 9:10 am
    Reply

    Windows 10 was released in 2015

    I feel so old :(

  2. pay for meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee said on December 29, 2022 at 9:22 am
    Reply

    Or you could use Linux/BSD without the bullshit.

  3. just an Ed said on December 29, 2022 at 1:38 pm
    Reply

    @annon–I am old. Yes, I often feel it, as well. Fortunately, not that often. ;-)
    At pay for– I do use Linux; Mint as my daily and I’m playing around with various others. I also donate at least once a year to Mint (as well as here when I remember). I feel it only right, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to do so.
    That said, I have a copy of both 7, which I failed to get operating on a B550 board (although it works on the B450). Ergo, I also have a copy of 10 on this box (as well as KDE Plasma, which I rather like). I have 4 purchased programs that I’ve yet to find suitable (read easy here) replacements for, as well as needing Adobe PDF reader for tax purposes. It’s the only one that works properly, oddly enough. I wonder who Adobe paid off?
    The site must be trying to pull in those even more newbie than I am. :-))

    1. Alex said on December 29, 2022 at 11:57 pm
      Reply

      > as well as needing Adobe PDF reader for tax purposes.

      Foxit, PDF-XChange and Sumatra do not cut it?

  4. Paul(us) said on December 29, 2022 at 2:29 pm
    Reply

    “However, the old girl still has life in her yet. ”
    Windows 10 is just seven years old. So just not a baby anymore and just a toddler.

    It feels like Microsoft throwing the baby out with the holy water.
    Families used to have multiple children. Microsoft still follows the older Chinese one child policy.

  5. John G. said on December 29, 2022 at 3:40 pm
    Reply

    W11 was released in 2015! OMG how terrible fast the time goes by! :[

  6. Haakon said on December 29, 2022 at 7:33 pm
    Reply

    “Windows 7 used to kick you back to a blank background after a short while if you used the gallery”

    Never happened on my two Win7 systems still in service since about 2011-2012.

    An ancient Core 2 Duo E8400, Asus G35, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD system got Win10pro in early 2014 via the Insider Program Tech Preview on the Slow Ring, Windows Updated monthly to 22H2 just recently.

    Other than the activate watermark and the mandatory personalization by MS, it’s served as the test box for everything I’ve ever thrown at it before I judge something new as OK for my two other Win10pro systems. The just-in-case image CD I create every three or fours months has never been needed. While it’s quite stable, it IS computing in sloooooow motion. :)

  7. Aluminum said on December 30, 2022 at 7:14 am
    Reply

    Ah 2015, back when people used to have touch screen iPhones and post pointless things on what we used to call social media. Samsung used to make Android based phones and Tesla used to make electric cars. Movies based on comic books were all the rage.

    The processors in our computers had multiple cores and Microsoft was the dominant OS maker on the desktop. Microsoft wanted us to open an account and link it to our windows install back in those dark days, even though Gmail users far outnumbered Outlook users. Thankfully things have changed dramatically since then.

  8. piomiq said on December 31, 2022 at 12:20 am
    Reply

    Windows 10 was released in 2015
    …..and still has not finished dark mode in UI
    Wow. This is quality by Microsoft

  9. piomiq said on December 31, 2022 at 12:21 am
    Reply

    “Do you really need a product key to use Windows 10?”
    Fortunately I don’t need to use Windows, and I’m happy with that.

  10. Someone said on January 19, 2023 at 11:17 am
    Reply

    Found myself do the upgrade to 10, back in early 2017. Nice days. “You wont lose your data, just you can go from 7/8 to 10.. simply. Yes. Now its the last days of retail bootable usb/iso for windows creation tool. Bye bye memories… ?(

  11. David said on February 1, 2023 at 5:00 pm
    Reply

    Hi. When I try to upgrade from w7 (not genuine) to w10, it asks for the key, and the option “I don’t have a product key” doesn’t appear… Any workaround?

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