How to Enter a Product Key

by Jason Artman

In computer software, a product key is a randomly generated string of letters and numbers entered in order to prove that the software product was purchased legally by the user. Depending on the software, the product key must be entered either before the software can be installed, or before a pre-determined trial period expires. Examine the box your software was shipped in to locate the unique product key.

Retail Boxed Software

Insert the CD or DVD into your computer to install the software.

Find your product key when prompted. Generally, a software product key is around 25 characters in length, and consists of random letters and numbers. It will be located in an area where it cannot be seen until the box is opened, such as inside the instruction manual or on the back of the CD case.

Enter the product key exactly as it is shown, including capital letters, spaces and dashes. Your software will be authenticated and installed successfully.

Downloadable Software

Double-click the downloaded program file to install most software downloaded online. Although some downloaded software may require a product key to be entered during installation, many operate in a "trial mode" for the first 30 days and allow for product key activation anytime during the trial period.

Examine the confirmation email that you received upon paying for the product. Normally, the product key for downloadable software is emailed to the buyer after the product is purchased.

Enter the product key during software installation or during the trial period. For software that can be registered after installation, the product key entry will be a menu option, found under "Upgrade," "Register" or "Enter Product Key."

Windows Activation

Examine your computer tower or the underside of your laptop to locate your unique product key for Windows if you purchased your computer from a major manufacturer. If you purchased a boxed copy of Windows, the product key will be inside the package.

Enter the product key when prompted if you are performing a fresh install of Windows.

Activate your Windows installation within 30 days if you purchased a computer with Windows pre-installed. Click "Start," "Computer" and "System Properties" to begin the activation process.

Click "Click here to activate Windows now," and follow the prompts given. The product key is entered during this process to validate the fact that your copy of Windows is legally purchased.

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About the Author

Jason Artman has been a technical writer since entering the field in 1999 while attending Michigan State University. Artman has published numerous articles for various websites, covering a diverse array of computer-related topics including hardware, software, games and gadgets.