More XP Activation Hell: Activation Wizard will not appear

10Dec, 2009

Recently performed a repair install on a netbook (which is enough of an ordeal to deserve its own post). After performing the repair install, instead of being dumped into the desktop like before, I was greeted with the message:

“This copy of windows has not been activated. Would you like to activate it now? y/n”

Ignore the polite tone of voice. What it’s really saying is:

“Microsoft trusts nobody, and until you jump through our hoops you can’t use this computer.”

Clicking “no” dumps you back at the login screen, so really you only have one choice.

Clicking “yes” closes the prompt and brings you to an empty screen where your computer thinks very hard for a little while. But instead of bringing up the Activate Windows Dialog, it dumps you back at the login screen.

Awesome. Without the activation center, you can’t enter your product key, or obtain an installation ID to use on the phone with the activation center. You’re now stuck.

You need to log in to start the activate and you need to activate to log in.

The Answer:
For some reason the product activation wizard depends on Internet Explorer. In my case this got blasted during the repair install. Reinstalling IE should allow the activation wizard to function.
1. Get a USB key.
2. Download an installer for internet explorer onto said USB key. At the time of writing, this is the latest version of IE.
3. Boot the locked computer and mash F8 during the boot process. This will bring you to the startup options for Windows.
4. Choose “Safe Mode With Command Prompt”
5. You should be booted to a command prompt. Insert your USB key and run the IE installer. If you don’t know how to use a command prompt, type “explorer.exe”. This should bring up the GUI, where you can get to the USB drive from “My Computer”.
6. After successfully installing IE, reboot the computer. Either type “exit” in the command prompt or use the start menu if you have explorer up.
7. Boot normally. This time when you ask for the product activation center to appear, it should actually appear.

Good luck!

If you need to run the product activation center from within windows at any time (if you get that far), open up the Start menu, hit Run and type “oobe/msoobe /a” into the window that appears and hit OK.