Some days ago, I introduced KMS (Key Management Service) as one option to activate Vista in a corporate environment. Today, I'll summarize the most important facts about MAK (Multiple Activation Key), the second option.

MAK purpose

  • You can use the MAK to activate as many Vista machines as you have licensed.
  • The MAK key can only be used for volume editions of Vista.
  • Usually, every organization gets one MAK from Microsoft.

Ways to deploy the MAK

  • Use autounattend.xml for installation with DVD or unattend.xml for network share installations or imageunattend.xml for WDS installations.
  • If you use ImageX to clone Vista, you can specify the MAK on your reference computer before imaging.
  • You can also specify the MAK after the installation manually via Control Panel, using slmgr.vbs in a logon script (slmgr.vbs -ipk <MAK>), or with the VAMT (Volume Activation Management tool). (I'll have a closer look at the latter. soon.)

Ways to activate Vista using MAK

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  • By phone. If you your network doesn't have an internet connection you have no other choice.
  • By using a direct internet connection to Microsoft. You can do that manually using the Control Panel or by using the command slmgr.vbs –ato in a script
  • Work with MAK Independent Activation using VAMT. (More about this soon,)
  • By using a MAK Proxy Activation. The Vista machines will connect to your MAK proxy which will contact Microsoft's activation server over the internet on their behalf. You also need VAMT for this.

Have you already decided whether to use MAK or KMS? If so, please let me know about your choice and your reasons. I am thinking of writing another post regarding the advantages and disadvantages of using MAK or KMS.

  1. Joel 16 years ago

    I am leaning toward KMS since, as I understand it, MAK is permanent to the machine it is installed on, Say your laptop is stolen, with it goes your Vista license. With KMS, that key will be invalid after 180 days or so since it will not be able to contact the KMS host.

    Again this is just how I understand it, and I may be way off.

  2. Joel, if somebody steals my laptop, the last thing, I would worry about is my Vista license. In my view, it is an advantage for MAK activation that Microsoft has to be connected only once. I am not very comfortable with the idea that I have to ask Redmond every 180 days if I am still allowed to use my desktop computers.

  3. George 16 years ago

    Michael, as I understand it, with the KMS system your computers are only communicating with the KMS host which is in the internal network, thus no communication with Redmond. You only need to activate your KMS host once.. hence allowing you to have more control over your VL.

  4. George,
    I think the documentation doesn’t mention it, but a Microsoft representative told us that a KMS host contacts their servers every 180 days.

  5. Scott 16 years ago

    I still don’t have a good understanding on how a MAK or KMS license is put back into the pool once a computer is retired or reimaged. We do not have KMS installed yet but we have used MAK for our Vista test computers. When I enter our MAK license I see that it checks in with MS and reduces our license pool by one. Can anyone clarify how licenses are added back into the license pool? Thanks

  6. Scott, the number of KMS activations is unlimited. Thus, there is no license pool here. As to MAK activation, you can’t reset your license pool. You have to contact Microsoft if you reached the limit.

  7. Kesava 16 years ago

    To activate KMS server for the user,it has to be connected to the net and there should be 25 vista systems connected minimum to a lan with the server to activate its clients.

    The clients activated through KMS need to be connected to the local server for periodic check by MS licensing servers. This is very cumbersome and impractical in many scenarios where especially less than 25 exist in unconneced state.

    MAK is better and simple. The customer will be very happy. We are going through horrible situation after paying for genuine SW.


  8. Erich 15 years ago

    I am the Image Master for a large K-12 School District with 5,000 Windows PCs, Laptops & Tables. We are going with MAK due to the ease of activation. I just got off the phone with our software provider and he explained about the KMS activation and how every system imaged has to contact the designated KMS (Key Management System) server to activate. The KMS server itself has to contact Microsoft every 180 days to re-activate itself (as was mentioned above)

    With MAK (Multiple Activation Key) system, I can create a master image for a particular model of PC and activate it from Microsoft via the Internet. Then after I create the Master Image file and image the next 200 – 500 computers of the same model, each one will ask to activate Vista over the Internet when you boot into Windows.

    This sounds the best for our environment, since (from what I understand) you only have to activate it once and then you are good. As of now we are paying for a “Microsoft Select 3” agreement and have 1000 MAK licenses. I asked about additional licenses and was told that I just have to call up Microsoft and request more MAK keys. This will not cost any additional money at all since our entire WAN is covered by our agreement
    (For only $250,000.00 a year GREEDY BASTAGES!!!)

    – Erich

  9. Erich, if you pay $250,000 for 5000 PCs, then one machine costs you $50. You really think that is expensive? How much did you pay for the hardware?

  10. George 15 years ago

    For a K-12 School District?


  11. Steve 14 years ago

    We turned up a KMS server two years ago and it’s been a no brainer. We don’t have to be concerned about tracking and getting a new MAK when we exceed one key’s capacity. As I understand it once you’ve used an activation you don’t get it back if that same system is reimaged. So any domain joined system on our “campus” subets will get an activation. That includes systems coming in via VPN access. The MAK is reserved for those sytems that will be off network for extended periods of time or are not domained joined for justifiable reasons.

  12. Joe 14 years ago

    Late comment but yes, a cost of $50 is expensive because it is an annual expense. When you consider that educational has a refresh cycle of 3 or 4 years that makes each license cost $150 – 200. Obviously longer refresh cycles drive the license fee even higher.

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