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No Windows 10 Sandbox Activation

I’ve been fooling around with the built-in Windows 10 Sandbox lately. It is indeed a useful tool for trying out unknown or potentially risky software, trial configurations, and so forth. Just for grins, however, I tried to activate the Windows 10 Enterprise license in my Sandbox. And that’s how I learned there’s no Windows 10 Sandbox activation. I’m not 100% sure it’s by design, but I think it must be. Using my Visual Studio subscription MAK (Multiple Activation Key) for Enterprise in Sandbox, here’s what I see when I try to activate the OS running inside it.

Despite entering a known, good, working Windows 10 Enterprise key the error avers that it is not “a valid digital license or product key.” What gives?
[Click image for full-sized view. Key string is blanked out for legal/ethical reasons.]

Why Is There No Windows 10 Sandbox Activation?

There are two different ways to answer that question. Each gets its own section in the text that follows.

Answer 1: Sandbox Activation Makes No Sense

First, there’s the notion that Sandbox activation doesn’t make sense. The environment is evanescent. The whole thing evaporates as soon as the sandbox is closed. Thus, it’s reasonable to argue that it doesn’t make sense to permit activation to proceed on what is by design a throwaway, one-time use operating system instantiation. I turned to a post at the Microsoft Tech Community from Hari Pulapaka, MS Principal Group Program Manager for Windows Kernel. Simply entitled “Windows Sandbox,” it’s got some great information to share. Here’s a quote that spells out key Sandbox characteristics:

+ Part of Windows – everything required for this feature ships with Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise. No need to download a VHD!
+ Pristine – every time Windows Sandbox runs, it’s as clean as a brand-new installation of Windows
+ Disposable – nothing persists on the device; everything is discarded after you close the application
+ Secure – uses hardware-based virtualization for kernel isolation, which relies on the Microsoft’s hypervisor to run a separate kernel which isolates Windows Sandbox from the host
+ Efficient – uses integrated kernel scheduler, smart memory management, and virtual GPU

Answer 2: The Sandbox Doesn’t Support Activation Capability

The second argument about activation failure is more technical. It comes from informed speculation by TenForums user Superfly. He has good cause to know what he’s speculating about. For one thing, he’s the author of the excellent and free Windows key and license discovery/forensics tool called ShowKeyPlus. For another, he’s a resident expert — if not THE resident expert — at TenForums on the subjects of Windows 10 licenses, keys, and activation. When I asked him for his thoughts on this topic, he opined that “Sandbox does not expose the services required for activation,” going on to speculate that “I think it’s by design.” He says he may investigate further to see which, if any, licensing files and services are present in the Sandbox runtime environment. If that produces any further info, I’ll update this blog post.

But for now, it seems pretty settled that MS doesn’t allow activation of the Windows 10 Sandbox because it doesn’t make sense to activate an image that is temporary and does not persist.

Note: Added 15 Minutes After Initial Posting

Indeed, it seems Sandbox is designed as “frozen OS snapshot” all the way ’round. I just tried to run Windows Update on the Sandbox and got error code 0x80070422. Further research indicates that one must check to see if WUserv (the Windows Update service is running and available). And indeed a quick jump into  Services.msc confirms that the Windows Update service is “disabled.” I’d say that provides at least an indication, if not outright proof, that updates and activation don’t work in Sandbox because it wasn’t designed to accommodate such things. ‘Nuff said.


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