The 3 Main Types of Windows 10 Licenses and Their Limitations

  • There are three main types of Windows licenses.
  • Each type, Retail, OEM, and Volume have advantages and also limitations.
  • Knowing what each type means will help you decide what to buy.
Windows activation status -

When it comes to software licenses, things can get confusing, really fast. That’s especially true for Microsoft Windows. Fortunately, there are only three main types of licenses you need to be aware of when it comes to Windows 10.

When it comes to Enterprise software licensing things are more complicated, and out of my area of expertise. Probably your IT department can help if you’re looking in that direction.

Types of Windows 10 licenses: Retail, OEM, and Volume

You’ll encounter these three terms in licensing most of the Microsoft products. Other software companies use identical or very similar terms, but the actual license agreements can differ significantly, so make no assumptions and read the End User License Agreement (EULA) before making any decisions.

Retail License (Full Packaged Product – FPP)

This is the boxed license you buy separately from your computer components. It’s also called sometimes Retail FPP (Full Package Product). You can install the license on any compatible computer. You can also move the license as you upgrade or change computers. It’s probably the most expensive type of license.

OEM License (Original Equipment Manufacturer)

This is the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) license, which means it’s issued together with a hardware component, usually a pre-assembled desktop computer or a laptop.

You can’t move the license to another computer, as it’s tied to the hardware itself. In case a major component changes (or breaks down and is replaced) you would need to buy another one, but calling Microsoft and explaining your situation can help reactivate the license on the new hardware, at no extra cost for you.

A Windows 10 OEM key costs significantly less than a Windows 10 Retail key, but it has the aforementioned shortcomings.

Volume License

This is a type of license reserved for companies that swap computers often and need a way to activate and re-activate licenses fast, without calling Microsoft or having to go through the purchasing process.

Microsoft will install a KMS server (Key Management Service) into the client company network infrastructure which will be used to issue VLK (Volume License Keys) when needed. The cost of Volume Windows 10 keys is usually negotiated.

A subset of Volume Licensing is Academic Volume Licensing, which is meant for use in schools.

Regardless of the exact Volume License type, it is not normally available for purchase through retail channels, not legally at least.

Also, find out How To Find Out What Type of Windows License You’re Using. Learn how to move a digital Windows license.

Less Known Windows 10 Licenses

You may encounter other Windows license types, like Upgrade licenses for both OEM and Retail copies of Windows, and Refurbished licenses for second-hand computers, but OEM and Retail and the only licenses you can buy directly as a consumer.

Upgrade type licenses can only be installed on a qualifying computer, where a previous version of Windows was installed and activated.

Avatar for Ionuț-Alexandru Popa
I'm a writer and Editor-in-Chief at BinaryFork. I am passionate about technology, science, space exploration, and movies. I started writing about tech more than 20 years ago, after graduating in Computer Science.
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