If you have only retail product keys, your options are rather limited: you can either provide a separate product key directly to each end user or assign the keys to the target computers by using a special administrative tool named Volume Activation Management Tool (VAMT). The most recent version, VAMT 2.0, supports retail product keys and is available at Microsoft Download Center as a stand-alone download.
In an earlier section of Tips and Tricks, we mentioned two volume-licensing (VL) models: KMS and MAK. If you are already using KMS on your corporate network, activation is a snap. As long as you are deploying a VL edition of Windows 7, you don’t need to do anything at all. As soon as the deployment is complete and a target computer is started for the first time, the computer will be automatically activated by one of your KMS hosts.
If you decide to use MAK activation and you have an appropriate MAK key, you have a couple of options. One option is similar to the earlier mentioned situation with retail keys; you can assign the MAK to target computers by using VAMT. The other option is to assign the MAK to the original installation on the reference computer. Although Sysprep, by default, resets the activation status, the MAK will remain in the image. When the image is deployed to a target computer and the computer is then started for the first time, the operating system will be automatically activated in 72 hours over the Internet. Or the user of the target computer can manually activate it right away.
And in conclusion, here are a few useful facts about the Windows 7 version of Sysprep:
• If you run the sysprep /generalize /oobe command from within an activated instance of Windows 7, the activation status is reset and the installation returns to a 30-day grace period.
• You can successfully run this command in the same instance of Windows 7 only up to three times. On the fourth time, this command returns an error.
• If a retail product key has been loaded, this command removes it.
• If a MAK key has been loaded, this command does not remove it.
• You can create an answer file that instructs Sysprep not to reset the activation status, and you can specify the answer file when you run Sysprep. If you do so on an activated installation, the resulting generalized image remains activated. However, if you deploy that image to another computer (physical or virtual), the activation will be lost.
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