MonkeyPuzzle Computers: Ilminster, Somerset

Licensing Software

or "Word Was On My Laptop Before"

I’ve started this article several times in an attempt to help people avoid some of the pitfalls of software licencing. The difficulty is in presenting the essence of what matters regarding software and avoiding all the intricate (unecessary) detail. The most common ‘problem’ which we, as an IT support company, experience is not being able to reinstall clients’ software if a PC requires an operating system reload.

It boils down to this very simple statement:

The most important thing about buying software is the licence key it comes with.

I’ll explain further a bit later on, but if you take nothing more away from this post, then remember to keep your licence key in a safe place, and if you purchase a PC with pre-installed software, make sure you get licence keys with it as well.

Generally, you purchase a license to use software, not to own it.

I’ll use Microsoft products as an example as they are so ubiquitous. When you purchase a new PC with Office preinstalled or pick up a retail copy of Office 2010 off the shelf, it comes with a Product/Licence Key sticker, either stuck to the PC or inside the box. This is your proof of owning the licence and it is essentially what makes the software work. If the software needs reloading, it will ask for the product key to complete the installation.

There are two things to take from this;

  1. You can’t install the software without the licence key and;
  2. Owning the software disc isn’t enough - you need to have that licence key.

When we reinstall a PC in our workshop, we can use any disc - we have our own copies of these - but we require customers to provide the licence key in order to do so. Usually these are on a sticker on the PC in the case of Windows, but when it comes to other software, most notably Microsoft Office, the licence key may be harder to track down. Either the PC came preinstalled with the software and no licence was provided, the flimsy CD case with the licence key attached has been lost or the software has been ‘acquired’ along the way.

In any of these situations, we can’t reinstall software without a valid licence key.


To help avoid this situation, here’s a brief explanation of the main methods of licencing software and how it may affect you in the future.

OEM Software

  • Often the cheapest method of acquiring software - it is purchased preinstalled on the PC.
  • It is only ever licenced for use with the system it was purchased with.
  • You can’t transfer it to another machine.
  • Usually no disc is supplied.
  • The licence key provided is extremely important if it ever needs reinstalling.

Fully Packaged Product (FPP) Software

  • Usually bought retail - more expensive than OEM.
  • Can be uninstalled from one PC and transferred to another.
  • Disc is supplied.
  • Licence key still most important.
  • There are other methods of licencing, particularly for volume licencing within a company, but these are the two main methods for the majority of personal and small business users.

In summary then, the licence key is the most important aspect of any software you purchase. Don’t lose it or throw it away, and protect it if it is stuck to the outside of your PC. There is a significant likelihood that you will have to reload your PC at some point . With the licence key, this is straightforward, without it you will have lost the use of that software. 

Added By: Phil Wright on 21st Sep 2010 - 12:19
Number of Views: 7899
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