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Fixing Product Activation problems

What can you do if Office product activation is refused?

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From time to time we get messages from readers who are having problems activating their copy of Microsoft Office. If you're not getting what you think you paid for, ask Microsoft to explain. What you see on the screen isn’t the last word on the subject, you can appeal.

That’s not as difficult as most people might think, in many cases all it will take is a phone call to get your copy of Office authorized. There’s no harm in asking.

Get Ready

Be at your computer and have your original Office 2007 packaging and especially the Product Key ready. Knowing details of when and where you purchased might also help. Have a pen and paper handy. A hands-free speakerphone or headset is handy but not essential.

Be clear about how many copies of Office you’re entitled to install see How many copies of Office can you install? and work out what computers you have activated (maybe uninstalled) with that Office Product Key.

Try to authorize the software and if it fails, make a careful note of exactly what the screen message says.

Make a note of the enquiries number. There should be a follow- up number on the screen or try to authorize again and choose the non-Internet/telephone option to find the right number to call.

Make the call

Call Microsoft on the Office authorization number. Most likely you’ll be taken through the authorization process again using an automated system and pressing your phone keypad. Assuming that fails you’ll eventually get through to an operator.

In our experience the Microsoft call center staffs are much better and positive at handling problems than in the early days of Office product activation. When product activation started the staff seemed trained to assume that anyone who called after a failed activation was a software pirate and thus treated accordingly.

These days if you can explain the problem, have the relevant facts available and are entitled to authenticate the copy of Office, in our experience, you’ll be given an authorization code after a few questions. Have all your facts available, be polite but firm. Remember the call center staff have a very narrow range of discretion beyond which they cannot go, so there’s little point in pushing some minimum-wage staffer too far.

If you get the activation code, write it down (it’s a long string of digits) then enter it into the Office activation screen while still on the phone. If the software now activates – great. If activation fails you can ask the same person for help though most likely it’s a mix-up with the activation code.

If you don’t get an activation code, Microsoft staff should explain why authorization can’t be given. If they can’t, then ask to speak to a supervisor. Try to find out exactly what the problem is and ask about further appeals process.


In general, Office product activation works well. Our concern has always been with the small percentage of cases were the system doesn’t go smoothly. Microsoft holds all the information on when and how a copy of Office has been activated which makes it difficult to dispute their decision, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try. There is no process to ‘de-activate’ Office when uninstalling from a computer so all Microsoft sees are full installations.

That said, our experience and that of many readers is that Microsoft tends to give the ‘benefit of the doubt’ if someone calls to query a failed Office activation. It is definitely worth calling if you think you’re entitled to install and use the copy of Office. 

Don't bother calling if you have a stolen or pirated copy of Office - Microsoft's records will show if a particular Product Key has been misused or over-used.

As always, we’re interested to hear your experiences phoning for an Office product activation – good or bad.

Article posted: Thursday, 04 March 2010

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