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Inspired by this question, I recall that many of the older Microsoft products from Windows 3.1 through the late 90's / early '00s supported a 'test' activation code of all 1's. I did this a few times out of laziness on Windows 95/98 machines many years ago.

In other words, if you installed Visual Basic 4 you would have had a certificate of authenticity with the product that contained a code you would enter to complete installation. However, it was possible to punch in simply all 1's to get things to work.

I believe all this changed in the early 2000s when Windows XP came out most likely due to the Microsoft activation service probably being made available by the OS. But that being said, was this '1s trick' possible with all their products until a particular year? Did it cover everything or just some types of product? Of course, perhaps it is possible that 1's wasn't intentional but just happened to satisfy whatever algorithm was being used!

*NOTE: I haven't done it in years, but I think it was 1's.. might have been something else!

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    Before online activation, any valid key could be considered a "test" key since there was no limit on how many times a given key could be used. – Ross Ridge May 16 '18 at 17:38
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    I don't know about the ones trick, but a lot of my old MSDN disks used the same key. I don't remember it exactly, but it was something like 339955993... I think it worked for all the Dev tools, sql server, office, and others... – Geo... May 19 '18 at 3:58
  • @Geo... I didn't know about that one, but I think it falls into the same spirit of the question. Though if it is was simply exploiting the key algorithm, I'd argue that it is more clever than anything. What I was looking for specifically is that I think it is documented that there are certain keys which aided enterprise/test activation. Of course, people "not in the know" would assume they needed to enter the key that was on the hologram sticker and nothing else :-) – bjb May 22 '18 at 16:58
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You will generally find that the all ones method works for Microsoft software released before 2001-2003. Microsoft's 25-character product keys (which were alpha-numeric and cryptographic in nature) first appeared in the Windows XP and Office XP.

Of course, not all of Microsoft's products switched to the 25-character product key approach right away, but as new releases came out, the older keys (which only use check-digit protection) were phased out.

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Microsoft's license-key scheme in those days was actually pretty laughable by today's standards, but it kept honest people honest. Essentially, any key where the sum of the digits was zero modulo seven (IIRC) would activate the product.

No Activation, no public-key crypto (which would've been possibly non-exportable in those days), just some simple modulus math. It was a much simpler time.

The 25-character public-key-based license key was more secure, but that just meant that if you were of a piratical bent, you had to find someone with a license you could copy. It wasn't until Activation was implemented that Microsoft really got a grip on license-sharing.

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I am not sure I've heard of it being a "test" feature, especially since it was in release versions. I would suspect it was simply a loophole in the activation hash. I remember there being another one that also worked (either 1 to 9 in sequence or 0 to 9 I forget which). It was incredibly wide-spread. I reported a local college because their office computers had pirated versions of Microsoft software on them. Hopefully I'm one of the reasons they closed. It's definitely notable though because since all the numbers are the same, it was easy to remember. I haven't installed vb6 in years and I remember it. As a side note: Microsoft STILL has versions of all their software that does not require online activation. You can't assume a corporate computer will have online access so their software only takes a valid key. Actual businesses (Indiana Business College/Harrison College being an exception) usually have a budget allowing legit software so Microsoft is more lax with their registration hoops.

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