Got a new computer? Check your licences are legit!

If you’re in the market for a new PC, or you’ve just bought one, making sure your computer comes with the correct licences can be a bit confusing.  We boil it down to the key information you need to know if you’re buying computers for your small business.

Pretty much every non-Apple computer you come across will be running two bits of Microsoft software that require a licence. The first is the Windows Operating System. For any PC sold in the last few years, this will be Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8. The second will be Microsoft Office. Depending on which version you buy, your Office licence entitles you to use programs like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher and Outlook. Microsoft Office is an optional purchase, but most businesses and home users will have Office on their PC. You might have Office 2003, Office 2007, Office 2010 or the latest incarnation, Office 2013.

Both these packages require a separate licence to use them.  If you don’t have one, you are using the software illegally.

Types of Licences

We’re going to address the type of licences that a typical home user or small business will come across. Please note that larger businesses that want to licence all of their desktops, and make sure they are all on the same version, will probably have what’s called an Open Licence. We are not talking about Open licences here, because for most small businesses, this does not represent the most cost-effective way of getting Windows or Office.

It’s far more likely that a small business or home user will purchase a new computer with what’s called an OEM licence. OEM stands for ‘Original Equipment Manufacturer’, and this is a discounted licence that is sold with a new (or sometimes refurbished) computer. OEM licences come with restrictions, the main one being you can only install OEM software on the computer  that you bought it with, you can re-install later on a new machine.

What to Check? – Your Windows Licence

If your computer is running Windows, you should have a ‘Genuine Microsoft’ Label or a COA (Certificate of Authenticity) attached to your computer. Windows 8 machines should have label like this one, which changes colour depending on your position.

If you have an older machine, perhaps with Windows 7, Vista or XP, you will find a COA label like this one.


Windows OEM licences are almost always included in the cost of a new PC or laptop, in fact about £100 of the cost of a new or refurbished computer with a new Windows installation covers the cost of supplying a licence with the computer.

What to Check? – Your Office Licence

If you’ve got the latest version of Office, 2013, you should have a PKC (Product Key Card) which looks like this. It’s the same size as a credit card, and has the activation key printed on the reverse. They don’t come with a 10p coin, that’s mine.

If you have Office 2010, you should have a card and activation key like this one.

Office licences are an optional purchase when you buy a new computer, for your guidance, the cost of an Office licence is around £185 for the ‘Home and Business’ and £330 for the ‘Professional’ edition.  (There is also a ‘Home and Student’ edition, which retails for around £100, but this is not suitable for business use).  These prices include VAT.

Err OK – I don’t have those…What next?

OK – well the Windows COA or Genuine Microsoft Label should be attached to your PC.  In fact, these labels are tamper-proof, so it’s pretty impossible to lose them, or remove them without them falling to pieces, so your Windows label should be somewhere on your PC or laptop.  If it’s not, you need to question whoever supplied it to you, as you have no proof that the software you are using is genuine, and may not be licensed to you.

Most new PC’s ship with Office pre-installed.  This is a trial version of the software that expires after a limited number of uses.  So it is possible for you to have a trial installation, and no key card.  However if your Office (Word, Excel, Outlook etc…) is activated, and you are able to use it regularly, then you must have a licence for it.  Microsoft Product Key Cards often go missing as they don’t have to be stuck to the side of the computer like Windows labels, but if you’re using Office on a new PC, you should have received one of these cards with your new purchase.  If not, then one of two things is true:

  • You knowingly bought a computer with a non-genuine, illegal copy of Office, in which case, naughty you!
  • You bought a computer with Office on it and you were told it was licensed, but your supplier has not provided you with the licence information.

If the first statement applies, then you’re using software without paying for it, and that’s software piracy. If the second statement is true, then you’re also using the software illegally, but this also means your supplier has sold you a licence, and pocketed the money themselves instead of giving you the licence card!  You should go back to your supplier and request the licence card (PKC in the trade).

I’m using a dodgy licence!  Shall I just risk it?

Well, that’s really your call.  If your conscience is OK with using pirated or illegally / mis-sold software, then you do so at the risk of having to explain everything if you ever receive a licensing audit request from Microsoft.  If your software is not genuine or your computer is using a dodgy licence, then it’s quite possible you are exposing yourself to viruses and malicious software, which frequently come as a byproduct of dodgy software.  You will also find that your computer stops receiving the vital Microsoft Updates when they spot that your licence looks dodgy!

For more information about how to make sure you are correctly licensed, have a look here.

I’ve got a dodgy licence, can I fix it please?

Yes.  Microsoft recognise that people might be using software illegally by mistake, either because they didn’t check, or because they were misled by their supplier.  As such, you can always contact a reputable seller (like us!) and we can perform a licence audit and if required, supply you with the correct licences.  We offer a completely free audit service for businesses with fewer than 10 computers.  If you’ve got more than 10 computers, our prices for a full software audit start at only £300, and include a full report and set of licencing recommendations to help you keep your business legal and compliant.


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