Microsoft has made a change to the activation process for Windows 10 in the upcoming Anniversary Update, which will arrive next month. The tweak has been found in the Feedback Hub available to those on the Windows Insider Program running the latest Windows 10 Anniversary preview builds.
The new rules live up to the tradition of Microsoft licensing processes are maybe confusing. At their core, the changes mean the Anniversary Update (Windows 10 1607) will allow users to link a Microsoft account with a Windows 10 digital license, which is actually good news for those who make hardware changes to PCs.
Such a link is only necessary for those who have a digital Windows 10 license, which is mostly those who took advantage of Microsoft's free upgrade program that runs until July 29, 2016. Those with local and domain accounts will be able to select the option, but those with digital licenses will see the step happen automatically when they upgrade while signed in to a Microsoft account.
When Windows 10 is installed on a machine it creates a unique installation ID which is based on the hardware information on the PC in which it is installed. One set the ID remains the same, tied to the device and not the user. If Windows needs to be reinstalled on the machine it uses the same ID and product key, attempting the same key on another machine will not work.
However, changing hardware (motherboards, RAM, drivers) on a PC is a common practice for numerous reasons, and this presents problems for Windows 10 activation. Especially for those who upgraded digitally for free and do not have a product key. At the moment the free update creates a digital license that is stored with the hardware-based identification.
For most PCs this is ok, the hardware is not changed, so if Windows 10 needs a clean install it simply uses the license and ID to activate. In many cases, hardware changes won't trigger a change in ID, but some situations (motherboard differences) do, leaving an invalid digital license and no free upgrade avenue left to pursue digital licenses.
The new feature allows users to create a digital license that is tied to their Microsoft account. If a motherboard is changed then users can access an Activation Troubleshooter to view license associated with a Microsoft Account and then identify the particular device.