How to Install and Use Windows 11 Without a Product Key
In the past, it was necessary to possess a valid product key in order to carry out the installation of Windows. This requirement, however, has since become obsolete. But what if you choose not to activate Microsoft’s latest desktop operating system with a license? Allow us to enlighten you on the process of installing and running Windows 11 for free.
Get Windows 11 for Free
Microsoft allows you to download Windows 11 without requiring any sign-in credentials. During this process, you can also get the Windows 11 Installation Assistant, a useful tool that checks your computer’s compatibility with Microsoft’s requirements. You can also use Microsoft’s media creation tool to create a bootable drive or DVD, as well as the ISO disk image required for installing the operating system.
After that, you can create an installation drive with a USB stick and install Windows. Through the use of appropriate workarounds, it is even possible to install Windows on an unsupported computer. When the installation is finished, Windows will notify you that it has not been activated. Windows activation requires the purchase of a product key, which can then be used to validate your installation by going to the Settings > System > Activation.
It is important to note that in order to ensure the security of your system, it is strongly recommended that you obtain your copy of Windows 11 directly from Microsoft or have it preinstalled on a brand-new computer. Copies of Windows obtained from unauthorized sources may have been tampered with and may contain malicious software, ransomware, remote access tools, and other undesirable components.
What Happens If You Choose Not to Activate Windows 11?
Similar to the experience of running Windows 10 without a product key, there are few significant disadvantages to running Windows 11 without activation. The presence of the persistent “Activate Windows” watermark in the lower-right corner of the screen is the most obvious indication that Windows 11 hasn’t been activated. This watermark covers all elements on your screen, including full-screen applications like games.
The watermark will also be visible in screenshots and screencasts, and will appear on all connected displays. So, if you connect a projector to deliver a presentation, the watermark will be present. The watermark will be visible to viewers if you are streaming games on Twitch. The watermark will be visible even if you capture full-screen desktop screenshots for your role as a tech blogger.
Also, reminders with an “Activate Now” link will appear within the Settings app and its various sub-menus. Pop-up notifications will also remind you that Windows isn’t activated and will encourage you to do so.
Furthermore, if you do not activate it, you will lose access to the vast majority of personalization options found under Settings > Personalization. This includes the ability to change your desktop wallpaper, toggle between light and dark modes, disable transparency effects, choose an accent color, and even access certain accessibility features such as high-contrast themes.
However, you can still select one of six predefined themes from the Personalization menu in the Settings app. You will have few options for customizing the Lock Screen, such as selecting a focused app, but you can change the Start menu to hide or display recently added and frequently used apps.
Can You Use Windows Without Activation?
Aside from the aforementioned limitations, Windows will function largely as expected whether or not it is activated. You can still install applications, play games, and browse the internet and check your email on the desktop.
You will also have access to Windows Update, which is the first thing you should do after a fresh installation. It is possible that Microsoft will change its policy regarding access to updates for users who have not activated their Windows in the future.
You can also access the Microsoft Store and download applications. You do not need to sign in if you only want to download free apps. However, you can link a Microsoft account and proceed with app purchases (though it is recommended that you reconsider purchasing games from the Microsoft Store). If you haven’t already, you can link your Microsoft Account to your local user account.
When Is Windows 11 Not Worth Activating?
Choosing not to buy a Windows license can make sense in a number of situations, but a few stand out. For starters, the immediate cost can be a deciding factor. If you’ve recently spent a significant amount of money building a new PC, you might want to avoid spending an additional $140 for a Windows 11 Home license.
Another reason to avoid Windows 11 activation is to test it before purchasing it. If you’re coming from Linux or macOS (or an older Windows version) and have heard good things about Windows 11, being able to install and use the operating system with few drawbacks for an extended period of time can be extremely beneficial. Although Linux distributions such as Ubuntu have made significant advances in terms of usability, they still trail Windows in terms of software and hardware compatibility.
Another target audience is Mac users who run Windows in a virtual machine (VM). Microsoft allows you to download and run Windows 11 on ARM for free, with virtualization software like Parallels Desktop making the process easier. Maybe you don’t use Windows very often, or maybe you’re looking into it in preparation for buying or building a PC.
Many legitimate Windows users may choose not to activate their license for a variety of reasons. For example, if you’re troubleshooting hardware and need to reinstall Windows several times as part of the diagnostic process, activation can be delayed until you’re confident the problem has been resolved.
Do you still use Windows 10? How to Get a Free Windows 11 License
If you already have a valid copy of Windows 10 and your computer meets the requirements for Windows 11, you can use Windows Update to upgrade to Windows 11 for free. Simply navigate to Windows Update in your Windows 10 device’s Settings menu under “Update & Security.” Click the “Check for updates” button, then click “Download and install” beneath the banner informing you that Windows 11 is now available.
If Microsoft does not prompt you to upgrade to Windows 11 through the Windows Update interface, your computer may be incompatible with the new version. Because Windows 11 adds new requirements, such as TPM 2.0, older hardware may no longer be officially supported. If you still want to try the latest version, you can install Windows 11 on an unsupported computer.
It’s perfectly fine if you prefer to stick with Windows 10. Microsoft has stated that it will continue to provide security updates for Windows 10 until October 2025. There aren’t many Windows 11-specific features that you’d be missing out on, so there’s no need to worry if you stick with Windows 10 (just make sure everything is up to date).
There is no free upgrade path available if you are building a new PC or purchasing one without a pre-installed Windows license. You can either keep using Windows without activating it or buy a license directly from Microsoft.
Should You Activate Windows 11?
If Windows is your primary operating system, it is strongly advised that you activate Windows 11. This will remove the annoying “Activate Windows” watermark and allow you to access all of the personalization options you desire. Activating Windows is also a responsible course of action, especially if you rely on it for work-related tasks.
While Microsoft’s operating system is not freeware, if you already have a Windows 10 installation, you may be eligible for a free upgrade. If your computer does not meet the requirements for Windows 11, a new computer should include a Windows 11 license as standard.
It should be noted that using Windows 11 without purchasing it is not illegal, and Microsoft purposefully designed the operating system with this flexibility in mind. It remains to be seen whether Microsoft will follow the same policy with Windows 10. Ultimately, the decision to activate Windows 11 depends on your individual needs, preferences, and circumstances.