Locating Your Software License Keys

Did you know that if you do a complete reinstall of the software on your PC, you will need the product license keys (or serial/registration information) for the software that you had paid for?

For example, products such as Microsoft Office, Nero, Windows (to name a few) require license keys in order to install the product, no matter how many times you end up installing them. I know from my experience with helping others on their PCs, when it came time to reinstall a licensed product (that they had purchased) there were occasions where they could not locate any documentation that contained the license keys or registration numbers. They either was unaware of the licensing process or simply forgot where they placed the CD or documentation that contained the key. In some instances this can result in a loss of hundreds of dollars.

In the event you cannot locate your product keys or licenses, there are several FREE solutions (listed below) that may be helpful; however, it is important that you take advantage of them prior to your PC becoming inoperable. I currently use all three of these apps, in combo, to make sure I capture everything.

The first solution is an app called LicenseCrawler. License Crawler is a portable app that requires no installation. Simply download and run the application; however, you will need admin rights to run LicenseCrawler. When you run LicenseCrawler, it literally will crawl (scan) your computer’s registry for the license keys.  LicenseCrawler will harvest and list any application product keys and other serial numbers or license keys very quickly, and supports all versions of Windows operating system from Windows 95 to Windows Vista. LicenseCrawler has the ability (and option) built-in  to scan various areas of the Windows registry to gather the information.

The second solution is ProduKey (by NirSoft)ProduKey, also a portable app, serves the same purpose as License Crawler, with the exception it scans your PC for the license keys for Microsoft based products (such as Microsoft Office and Windows).

The third solution is an application called SIW -System Information for Windows. This app, also available in a portable version, is actually a tool that gathers detailed information about your system properties and settings and displays the results in a comprehensible manner.  One of the categories which it gathers information, is a category for license keys.

The whole point to this article is to make you aware that if your PC goes south, you will need those product keys and licenses to reinstall your software. If you currently have your license keys keep them in a safe place for future reference and to prevent the keys from being stolen. If you do not have the keys, take the time to try these apps to recover what you have paid for.


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Make An Exact Copy of Your Hard Drive

One of the most frustrating moments for any computer user is when your computer has crashed, all else has failed to work, and you forgot to make the restoration CDs (or DVDs) that came with your PC. The restoration CD (or DVD) option is your last ditch solution to fixing your PC when all else has failed. The restoration CDs (or DVDs) typically restore your system back to the day that you purchased it. Some manufacturers’ PCs provide an option to perform (initiate) the restoration process by hitting a key during the computer’s startup that will initiate the restore process by using files stored in a hidden partition on the computer’s hard drive. The restoration process varies from PC manufacturer to manufacturer and if you have a home brewed system, the restoration is typically a reinstall of the operating system using the operating system discs that you purchased. The whole point to this is just that you make sure you have a plan in the event disaster strikes… AND, BELIEVE ME IT WILL !

The problem with the restoration processes provided is that you are in for some work. I’m talking about reinstalling your software, performing your Windows updates, virus/malware software updates, personal customization, bookmarks, emails, etc… Most of the time when you have resorted to a complete restoration or reinstall of the operating system you will lose your valuable data that you may have saved over the months and even years.

One option to avoid all of this, and reduce the workload, is to use disk imaging software and a good external hard drive. Disk Imaging Software is software that you install on your PC and use when your computer is in a healthy state. The disk imaging software is engineered to make a backup (disk image) of an exact representation of your hard drive (or partitions) at the time you perform the imaging process. Don’t be fooled into thinking that your everyday backup software can make an exact copy of your hard drive and partitions. It can’t… The Windows operating system is like a living organism that is constantly evolving and changing when you start it up. Your typical backup software apps are unable to capture those changes. As a matter of fact Windows will not allow you to make a copy of certain critical system files without special software. Your typical backup software is great for backing up your personal files (such as pictures, documents, etc.) and should be used on a daily basis in addition to the imaging software that can be used on a less frequent basis.

As you well know, the What’s On My PC blog specializes in locating FREE software options.  In this case of disk imaging software, the FREE app that I use and recommend is the FREE Edition of Macrium Reflect

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Using Macrium Reflect™ Free Edition you can create an exact image of partitions on your hard disk for easy hard disk upgrade or complete/partial system recovery

Key factors to using imaging software, such as Macrium Reflect, is that when you perform the backup of your system it is critical that your system is in a healthy state and that you have an external source (with sufficient space) to store the image file.  Even though Macrium Reflect offers other backup media options to CD or DVD media, I suggest you use an external drive. Besides, the external drive will serve you in performing your normal daily backups.

Another important factor to using Macrium Reflect is that the first thing you should do is create a Rescue CD. This option is available in the Macrium Reflect software under the “Other Options” menu selection. The rescue CD is used to boot your computer and restore your computer from the image file when disaster occurs.

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For FREE imaging software, Macrium Reflect is a great option for home-based users and is comparable in performance and appearance with that of its’ commercial counterparts. Macrium Reflect is also regularly updated to meet the needs of the ever changing Windows operating system.

Features of the FREE Edition of Macrium Reflect:

Absolutely free! No strings! The only free XP, Vista and Windows 7 compatible disk imaging software with BartPEand Linux based recovery options.

  • Create a disk image whilst running Windows using Microsoft Volume Shadow copy Service (VSS).
  • Image to Network, USB, FireWire drives and DVD.
  • Built in scheduler.
  • 32 bit and native 64 bit versions.
  • Industry leading compression levels and speed.
  • Linux based Rescue CD with Network access and full GUI. Only 6.5MB in size!
  • Built in CD/DVD packet writing engine. Supports packet writing to DVD DL media with Windows Vista.
  • HTML log files.

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