The vast majority of all computers run some version of Windows. But never before has there been such a large number of computers without Windows activated. But what actually happens if you never activate Windows?
Do you need to activate Windows?
The days when a Windows license (or an equivalent, not quite legal solution) was unavoidable are long gone. Even Windows 7 could be used reasonably comfortably without a license (starting with Service Pack 2). However, among other things, you had to do without all updates, unless they were critical security updates.
Meanwhile, however, things look different: A majority of users would describe Windows 10 and 11 as quite usable even without a license. But where exactly are the differences to an activated Windows?
- The most obvious difference to an activated Windows can be seen in the bottom right corner of your screen: Here you may find a watermark that prompts you to activate Windows.
- You will also see the same hint when you open the settings. Clicking on it will immediately take you to the Windows activation menu.
- Also, if Windows is not activated, you will not be able to make any personalization settings. This affects all options that you can find in the settings in the item “Personalization”. For example, you cannot set a different desktop background or color scheme in the settings.
However, you can work around this by right-clicking on the desired background image directly in Explorer and setting the file as the desktop background.
- In Windows 11, you cannot change the orientation of the Start menu without a valid license. By default, it is located in the center of the screen. However many users want the Start menu aligned in the bottom left corner, just as they are used to in Windows 10.
- If you have an offline account, you can’t rename it. Switching to an online account is possible, but simple renaming is prevented.
For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned that Microsoft prohibits its users from using unlicensed copies of Windows according to the license agreements. This has not changed until today. However, the company does not seem to intervene here.
By the way, you can find Windows 10 keys from volume licenses very cheap online. On Amazon, you can regularly find such keys for less than 20 Dollars.
Why doesn’t Microsoft take a tougher stance?
Whether they have a license or not, all users leave data behind. And it is precisely this that Microsoft collects with growing enthusiasm. In order to get hold of a lot of data, it naturally needs a large user base.
But for what reason Microsoft makes Windows 10 and Windows 11 so easy to use “for free”, no one can say for sure. One likely theory is that Microsoft’s focus is shifting more and more towards enterprise customers. Here, not only can they sell the more expensive Windows 10 Pro licenses, but also Office packages and server licenses. In an enterprise environment, Microsoft also seems to be strict about adhering to license agreements.
Although some private users use Windows for free, they gain experience in the process – and that’s exactly what’s important for Microsoft. This may sound a bit strange, but it is easy to explain. When users get to grips with Windows 11 on a private level, upgrading to Windows 11 is no longer so difficult for many companies. To save on training costs, companies like to use software they already know. The same holds true (possibly even more so) for Office 365.
If Microsoft wants to remain the top dog, it needs a large user base. So cracking down too hard would scare off home users, which could free up market share for competing products. And if an alternative to Microsoft’s products were to become established in the private sector, that would in the long run weaken the company’s own position in the corporate sector.