Recovering Office key from broken computer

How to get your Office Product Key when the computer is broken.

Shelia M has an Office install problem ….

My two year old computer broke down in 2010 and the hard drive was replaced by the engineer.

When I started the computer Microsoft Office was GONE. This year I purchased Microsoft Office 2010 Home and Student version (for three computers). It worked well for a while, but unfortunately the case cover has been mislaid. Now it tells me that It was only a trial (which it was not) and that I must put in an activation code from the product case. I have tried putting in the Product ID from one of the other computers but no luck.

There are only three places you can get the all-important Office Product Key from:

  • The Certificate of Authenticity or other official record of the Product Key supplied by Microsoft.
  • Reading and decoding the Product Key from the registry using a system information tool.
  • A copy of the software purchase details, including Product Key that you’ve made.

In Shelia’s case it sounds like she bought Office 2010 Home and Student as an ‘OEM’ bundle with a new computer. That means the only copy of the Product Key is on a sticker affixed to the computer case. With that panel gone, the original source of the Key is gone.  Note that an OEM copy of Home and Student edition is valid for ONE non-transferable computer only – not three licences.

The reason the Office software shows as ‘trial’ software is because the right Product Key hasn’t been entered. New computers often come with a trial version of Office 2010 that has been converted into a full version of Office using a valid Product Key.

If the same copy/license/Product Key for Office has been installed on another computer (you have three licenses for Office) then you can recover the right Product Key from that installation. See our article “If you’ve lost your Office install disks” for details on one piece of free software that can display the Product Key.

Failing all that, you could ask the engineer what he/she did with the old hard drive or at least the registry file. It is possible to recover Product Keys off external drives or registries using ProduKey from Nirsoft. This might not work because of the way computer makers load software onto a new computer, but is worth a try.

It is possible, but unlikely, that the computer maker put the Product Key used on the documentation or receipt that came with the new computer. That isn’t the common practice, but it’s worth checking.