Some days ago, I blogged about the pros and cons of KMS (Key Management Service). In this post, I summarized the pros and cons of using MAK (Multiple Activation Key), the second option for activating Vista in a corporate environment.

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MAK Pros

  • Less than 25 Vista computers: In this case you have no other choice anyway, since you can't use KMS.
  • Onetime, non-expiring activation: In my view, this is the most important advantage of MAK activation. Once you activated your Vista machines, you don't have to care anymore about product keys. You don't have to watch out for your KMS host and your Vista clients don't have to contact Microsoft, anymore. And, most important of all, there is a lower risk of your desktop computers becoming useless because activation failed on your KMS host.
  • Your network doesn't have internet access: If your computers are in a high security network without any connection to the outside world then MAK activation is the best choice.
  • MAK is the more comprehensive solution: MAK activation works no matter how your IT infrastructure is organized. You can use it on your in the field computers, in branches, in high security networks etc. Thus, if you only want to deal with one Vista activation solution then MAK is probably the better choice.
  • Similarities to Windows XP Volume License Keys (VLKs): If you are already familiar with volume licensing under XP, you don't have to change your deployment strategy much since MAKs are managed like VLKs. There is, however, one important difference: You have to activate your Vista machines after you deployed the MAK key.

MAK Cons

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  • MAK activation needs extra care during the deployment process: Every time you deploy a new Vista machine, you have to take care of its activation afterwards. You can deploy the MAK with the Vista image, but you'll always need an extra step for activating your Vista machines. KMS is easier to handle here. Once your KMS infrastructure stands, you don't have to think about activation during the deployment process.
  • Every MAK allows only a limited number of activations: This number is dependent on the number of licenses you purchased. If you increase the number of Vista clients, you have to increase your possible MAK activations, too. But this is not the only problem. It is quite probable that you will need more MAK activations than the licenses at hand. For instance, if you have to reinstall a machine, you have to activate it again which decreases the number of times you can use this MAK. The same applies to test installations. If you used up all your possible activations, you'll have to contact Microsoft again. It will, then, depend on their goodwill if they allow you activations that are more than the number of purchased licenses. With KMS, you won't have this problem since the KMS host can activate an infinite number of Vista clients. As far as I know, this number is not transmitted to Microsoft.

Please, let me know if I missed any argument.

20 Comments
  1. Lukas Beeler 15 years ago

    We have a Windows Vista Business MAK Key, as a Microsoft Partner.

    We have 25 Licenses for Vista Business, and got 500 Activations on that Key, at least according to VAMT.

    So the chance that you will have to ring up Microsoft is pretty slim.

  2. Lukas, that is interesting because we only got 100 activations even though we have about 600 PCs. However, according to our contract we can install an unlimited number of Vista machines since we only pay per employee. One thing is for sure, though, these 100 activations would never be enough if we only use MAK activation.

  3. cyanna 15 years ago

    One problem is how often will tthe PCs de-activate. Some tests we ran on a test lab comprised of 15 PCs (enterprise total 350) resulted in reactivation needed for many different scenarios: driver updates, network client product replacement, NIC replacements....
    Microsoft has been complettely quiet and uncooperative about providing any means to at least beeing able to plan for this kind of event. Contacting our MS rep will be of very limited help if I get 100 machines in RFM within 3 days just because I pushed a new driver. Some of those machines might not be able to connec to the network in that time frame!
    Anybody been more succesfull obtaining some info about what events or combinaion of events will trigger a reactivation?

  4. Cyanna, that’s certainly an interesting argument. If you are working with KMS, deploying a new driver shouldn’t be a problem because your clients will activate again automatically. If you work with MAKs, however, you have to invest extra work to get them activated again.

  5. misph1re 14 years ago

    So what happens if you have employees that build and activate machines on a domain using a KMS server, then permanantly take the system off the domain to an isolated location no longer in contact with the KMS server?

    Time to dust off our linux evaluation project again I guess.

  6. Lukas Beeler 14 years ago

    After 180 days, the system reminds you that it needs activation.

    After 210 days, the system goes into RFM - Reduced Functionality Mode. You won't be able to work on it anymore at this point.

    http://support.microsoft.com/kb/925582

  7. misph1re, if you permanently take Vista PCs off the company network, you'd better use MAKs. Actually, this is why Microsoft offers the MAK solution.

  8. titus 14 years ago

    will i face any incompatibility issues after activating mak?

  9. Titus, when it comes to compatibility it doesn’t matter if you work with MAKs or KMS.

  10. David 12 years ago

    If I'm looking to deploy 2 Windows 2008 servers initally, but know forwell in the future there will be more than 5 then what do I have to do?

    What I have read points in the direction of MAK, but if I install these and activate under MAK then install another two actiavting them using MAK and finally deploy my 5th then can they all start to using KMS or because the other 4 are already activated under MAK will the KMS service not work unitl 5 winodws 2008 servers are deployed at the same time?

    Hope this makes sense. Basically when I add more windows 2008 servers over time and they get to 5 on the network can you change from MAK to KMS?

  11. David, I have never tried it, but I would be surprised if it didnt't work.

  12. Mike 12 years ago

    You could use the VAMT tool (version 2.0 just released) to change the activation method couldn't you?

  13. Lukas Beeler 12 years ago

    Yes, you could also do this with VAMT 1 and VAMT 1.1. Or you could do this manually by entering the KMS-Client product key, which is on TechNet.

  14. Mike, you can install product keys remotely with VAMT 2.0. Check out my review.

  15. Akos 11 years ago

    The question is not how to install a KMS or what’s better KMS or MAK but rather why we as the end user, administrator, IT Guy do we have to manage it? I mean why doesn’t MS just host the $%#^@**^ thing? MS already has MAK so how hard would it be to host the KMS also?

  16. Alos, hosting KMS doesn't make sense. KMS was introduced because many organizations don't want that their Windows clients contact Microsoft servers. KMS is a proxy solution like WSUS.

  17. Manoj 11 years ago

    Hi,
    In our organization we have KMS key for (Win 7 & Win Vista) & MAK key for (Win 7 & Win Vista). Also we have Win Xp VLK key.
    We have total 10 Win xp machine & 15 Win Xp machine, so which key should I used to activate them either MAK or KMS?
    However all machine have Internet access.
    And by using of these keys how many machine can I activate?

  18. chandraSekhar 6 years ago

    How many Users can use with KMS license.? if we have installed KMS license on Single PC.what will happened?

  19. cyanna 6 years ago

    KMS requires a minimum number of either physical or virtual computers in a network environment. These minimums, called activation thresholds, are set so that they are easily met by Enterprise customers.

    Activation Thresholds for Windows – Your organization must have at least five (5) computers to activate servers running Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, or Windows Server 2012 and at least twenty-five (25) computers to activate client systems running Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8.
    Activation Thresholds for Office – Your organization must have at least five (5) computers running Office 2013, Project 2013, Visio 2013, Office 2010, Project 2010, or Visio 2010 to activate installed Office products using KMS. For more information about Volume Activation of Office products, see the Volume Activation Quick Start Guide for Office 2010 and Volume Activation Overview for Office 2010.

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