Security Sticker Defeats Product Key In Showdown Of Annoying Security Devices

Our good friend Mr. Scott Kidder says,

See, I try to be a good guy and purchase a retail copy of Windows XP to use on my Macbook. But the stupid security sticker is covering up the last five digits of the product key, and trying to remove the security sticker tears the label. I give up.

Boy, that sucks.

Nice Guys Finish Last [Scott Kidder]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Smitherd says:

    Proof! The security guys only approve OS X!

  2. Beschizza says:

    Steam it off!

  3. jpx72x says:

    @Smitherd: Proof that mac fanboys will be douchey at any hour of the day.

  4. sleze69 says:

    This is a great metaphor for Digital Rights Management.

  5. cde says:

    Scan the barcode, duh…

    More obvious, return for exchange, or call Microsoft.

  6. B says:

    Don’t they generally put the security key on the inside of the box? Otherwise I could go into a store, copy a key from a display box, then go home and use it to authorize my software.

  7. chiieddy says:

    @B: Yup, but they’re also putting security tags in the box now too.

  8. sophistiKate says:

    @sleze69: You’re right. It’s actually kind of beautiful when you think about it that way.

  9. backbroken says:

    @cde: Here’s a preview of that conversation with Microsoft:

    Microsoft support: “How may I help you?”

    Joe: “The security tag is concealing my product key. Can you help me get a valid key?

    Microsoft support: “You are a lying pirating liar! Where do you live?”

    Joe: “Um, nevermind.”

    But go ahead and give them a call anyway.

  10. cde says:

    @backbroken: I would expect it would involve shipping the cd case out and receiveing a new one + some recompensation in the mail.

  11. Tank says:

    Maybe you could email this pic to someone at Microsoft and they could provide a new one. So far, they still don’t charge postage on emails.

  12. Nytmare says:

    @cde: Where do you get a barcode reader that would understand and display a Microsoft product code?

  13. disavow says:

    Those security tags are usually layered (hard shell -> clear plastic -> metallic strips -> clear sticky plastic), so you might be able to cut off the top parts so that all that remains is that clear, sticky layer on the bottom. That should be thin enough to decipher the last five digitss of the product key.

  14. valarmorghulis says:

    I’m guessing that this was purchased at a retail location (warehouses aren’t know for applying RF security tags). I’d take it back as defective. Make ti clear that there is no way you can use the product in the condition they sold it to you in. Remember, you didn’t buy the software, you bought *THAT CD KEY* to authorize you to use the software.

    Baring that option, I’d go with the scanning of the barcode like cde suggested, but you may have to find out which barcode standard they are using first. Then I’d try MSFT support. Explain it to them, and ask what their suggestions are for this. Listen and evaluate which ones will work. You shouldn’t have to send in the label with the current key on it in any case.

  15. Nytmare says:

    @Tank: Because they’d respond with “Thank you for contacting Microsoft. The Product Key page is included in the package for your Microsoft XP Operating System ™. Please do not lose this key as it is needed to install the software. If you need additional assistance, please visit”

  16. valarmorghulis says:

    @disavow: not a bad idea, but i’d try that last. a lot of the time the metallic strip is imbedded in the adhesive layer.

  17. DeeJayQueue says:

    ok where is this person going to find a barcode scanner if he doesn’t have access to the tools necessary to cut off the EAS tag?

    Plus, he’s already torn the label in the process of trying to remove the tag. The best option is to return the product to the store from which he purchased it, and open a new one right there to make sure the EAS tag doesn’t obscure the key code.

    They put the EAS tags into high-shrink products at the factory now, as part of the manufacturing and packaging process. Apparently whoever was doing it was having a bad day.

  18. TVGenius says:

    I’m pretty sure that barcode’s not the product key, it’s not long enough to encode that many characters. Compare it to a UPC code on something.

  19. sophistiKate says:

    You know, you could try bringing it to a Wal-Mart or supermarket or anywhere else that has one of those bar code scanners for customers to use to check prices and try scanning your product key. In high school, I use to endlessly amuse myself by scanning my student ID with those and seeing my SSN pop up on the screen. (I was neither cool nor identity-theft-conscious in high school.)

  20. Draconianspark says:

    These security tags are on the XP packaging from the factory ( Specifically, on the envelope thing that’s inside the XP retail box ) They’re supposed to be parallel to the product key and about an inch or two above it; this is likely some screwup of some machine. If you cut the tag apart you might be able to see the product ID, but I’d just exchange it.

  21. cde says:

    @nytmare: Barcodes information is normally just ascii. The barcode is normally one of 6 standards/protocols. My cuecat can read UPC’s ISBNs and come neoware product barcodes.

  22. stre says:

    @cde: he’s not trying to purchase it, he already has. he needs the product key to install the product.

  23. cde says:

    Oh, and try your local library. Just ask them to scan it into notepad or something. Most barcode scanners are just hardware implementations of computer keyboards.

  24. BlackestRose says:

    Here’s an old Mom’s trick for cleaning gum out of hair. I think it should work on other sticky stuff. Peel up an end and work it with a tiny bit of peanut butter on a paper towel to loosen it.

    You could also try a commercial product like Goof off, but it’s a fairly toxic product.

  25. cde says:

    @stre: He returns the product (cd + key) as defective and they even exchange for same product.

  26. woot says:

    This is one of the many reasons why I love Apple. Only one version of the Operating System and only 2 ways to buy it (individual or family pack). Either way, it’s the exact same software and it doesn’t need any pesky license keys. Working on the assumption that the vast majority of your customers aren’t criminals and don’t deserve to be treated like one is the way to go.

  27. Death says:


    What’s more “douchey,” making an OS joke or calling someone a douche for making an OS joke?

  28. defectiveburger says:


  29. coan_net says:

    The story is very vague – but the solution is simple:

    Return the item for exchange of another one. It is obviously not usable in it’s current form and any store should see that and approve any exchange that is needed.

    Calling Microsoft might help – they could always give you a working code over the phone, but exchange the item is what I would do.

  30. B says:

    @Death: The first comment can be taken as tongue in cheek, whereas the second is a direct attack on a commenter, so I’d say the second one.

  31. valarmorghulis says:

    @Death: ummm… yes?

  32. Scott Kidder says:

    For those playing along at home: yes, I am receiving a new box from our vendor, and I will be returning this one. But that doesn’t make this process any less frustrating.

  33. ptkdude says:

    I tried scanning the barcode off the picture, but it didn’t work. And BTW, a typical scanner can read most 2-D barcodes.

  34. specialed5000 says:

    It takes a few minutes, but I’ve never had any problem calling Microsoft to get a key. I re-image PCs all the time at work, we and frequently either do the same machine too often so that the key doesn’t work, or stickers have come off. I’ve never even had to talk to a person, just an automated system. If he puts in as much of the key as is readable, makes up something for the rest, the activation will fail, and the next screen has a MS number, and a really long number to enter. The automated system then reads a key back to you. At least that’s the way it has always worked for me. It’s a pain, but probably less so than driving back to try to exchange it.

  35. Buran says:

    @cde: The store will probably refuse. Hopefully he used AMEX which lets you “return” something even if a store refuses.

  36. cde says:

    @Buran: Why would they? Not like he’s trying to return for money or a different product. Every electonics story say “Open cd’s for same”.

    And the online retailer he bought it from is already exchanging it. See Scott Kidder:

  37. ncboxer says:

    Like someone said before, that barcode is not long enough to have to entire product key in it. Most likely it is just the barcode for the SKU. I’d say less than 10 characters if it were a standard code 39 barcode.

    Another comment said a typical scanner can read most 2d barcodes… the picture doesn’t have a 2d barcode in it, and most scanners cannot read 2d. 2d does not have a wide implementation and use need a special type of scanner to read it- more of an image scanner. Here’s an example of a 2d barcode- []

  38. VA_White says:

    There is an adhesive removing product called Un-Du that removes stickers cleanly without leaving a residue. Scrapbookers use it all the time to fix their mistakes. It’s a GODSEND for moms with kids who stick their stickers everywhere and it’s perfect for getting pricetags off of stuff.

    No, they did not pay me to say any of that. I am just a big fan of their product.

  39. cde says:

    @ncboxer: If a UPC a 3rd of the width can hold 12 characters, I’m sure that barcode can hold all 25 characters.

  40. ncboxer says:

    @cde: If the vertical bars were a smaller width and closer together, yes you probably could store 25 characters in that size of a barcode. However those in the picture are neither. Look at this picture of a Code 128 barcode (which the barcode in question looks close to)- [] It takes that many vertical bars to encode 9 characters.

  41. urban_ninjya says:

    @BlackestRose: 2nd on the peanut butter. It’s good at disolving most sticky residue.

    If that doesn’t work, try mineral oil. That’s good at removing tar based adheasives.

  42. ncboxer says:

    link coded wrong- []

  43. DoubleEcho says:

    @coan_net: How is it vague? How much more descriptive do you have to be, when you have the picture right in your face?

    Adhesive Security Bar obscures Windows XP Product Key. Product Key is required to install Windows XP (legally). Removing the adhesive bar tears off the label. Therefore, he cannot use the product he purchased. I fail to see where the vague part of this story.

  44. jpx72x says:

    @Death: Actually, the ultimate douchy action would be calling someone a douche for calling you a douche for calling someone a douche, you douche.

  45. ribex says:

    @VA_White: I second, third, and fourth this recommendation for Un-Du. The one place I know that reliably carries this is Wal-Mart (craft section with glues), though other craft/hobby stores should carry it. Possibly in hardware stores as well.


  46. wring says:

    holy shit. that’s effed up. isn’t it pasted on the cd?

  47. Optimus says:

    Or even easier:
    Bring it back to the store and tell them you disagree with the reverse engineering portion of the End User License Agreement and are returning the product for a full refund as per the “End User License Agreement” presentation dialog.
    In at least California, and in most states (I thought), they are required to honor such a request.
    When the refund is secured, waltz over to the Windows XP aisle and buy another copy. If they give you a hassle, tell them you changed your mind once you realized that other copies of Windows XP don’t require reverse engineering to figure out the License Key.

  48. Fuzz says:

    You could try using this:
    Free full featured evaluation version available.

  49. wickedpixel says:

    just google “Windows XP serialz” and find a new one. It’s technically legal as long as you own a copy of the software.

  50. DoubleEcho says:

    @wickedpixel: Except that getting a product code off of the Internet will not likely give you a valid product code, which is what he paid for.

    Can I sell you a counterfeit Sharp LCD television when you ordered a Sharp Aquos from my store for the retail price of a “real” Sharp LCD?

  51. B1663R says:

    or you can go to that torrent site with the little boat on it and type in xp key.

  52. spamtasticus says:

    You lost me at Windows.

  53. azntg says:

    Return it as defective. Go for a chargeback if it isn’t resolved to your satisfaction.

  54. tamoko says:

    @cde: Bingo!

    @jpx72x: chuckle…

  55. says:

    @backbroken: Actually Microsoft is quite generous with new product keys. I’ve gotten them multiple times for the same (8-year-old!) copy of XP. Most recently, it was because I upgraded my motherboard and the piracy protection thingy insisted I was on a different computer, therefore the operating system must be pirated. I did have to escalate beyond the first level of tech support (who seemed completely baffled as to why this would happen) but I got a new key with minimal fuss.

    I don’t think they see a lot of software pirates bothering with trying to get a valid product key when there are so many alternatives available to the enterprising pirate.

    @OP: Try to do an exchange with the store, but if they won’t help you, call Microsoft Tech Support and explain the situation.

  56. skilled1 says:

    i sence alot of failure in this post.

    first: OP owns a mac.
    second: actual purchase of windows.
    third: posting about the first and second.

  57. tamoko says:

    @skilled1: I sense a lack of education… and too much narcisistic self-esteem in the previous post.

    first: Who cares… what, your any better?

    second: God forbid someone might BUY software, and this from some flavor of fanboy?

    third: Your a Douche.

  58. ViperBorg says:

    Didn’t we see this already?