VMware Fusion, Apple Boot Camp, and Windows Activation

I’m trying to get Windows XP SP2 running on my MBP using both Boot Camp (to be able to run Windows natively) and virtualized using VMware Fusion, but sharing the same Windows installation. This turns out to be complicated by Windows annoying product activation system. When run under Fusion, Windows sees different hardware than when running natively on Boot Camp, so it wants you to reactivate.

According to this thread in the VMware forums and page 8 of the Fusion Getting Started guide (PDF), the solution is to activate things in a particular order:

  1. Install Windows XP SP2 using Boot Camp
  2. Activate Windows under Boot Camp
  3. Install Fusion, picking the Boot Camp as the virtual machine
  4. Install the VMware Tools
  5. Reboot the virtual machine
  6. Activate Windows under Fusion

Now one should be able to run under Boot Camp or Fusion with no reactivation problems. I am about to try the Fusion side now.

Note for Vista users, Fusion 1.0 isn’t able to finesse the Windows activation issue (this is mentioned in the release notes).

Update: When I tried to activate in Fusion, Windows told me my license key had used up all its reactivations. So, I was forced to use their automated telephone system to activate, which was comically bureaucratic to Brazil proportions. You have to repeat 9 groups of 6 numbers [sic!!] to an automated attendant, which then tells you 6 groups of 6 numbers that you have to type in. It boggles my mind that Windows users put up with this kind of crap. Anyway, that finally worked, but then when I booted back into Windows via Boot Camp it needed reactivation. Luckily, I could do it via the Internet activation option this time, and now Windows seems happy in both Boot Camp and Fusion. bleargh.


30 thoughts on “VMware Fusion, Apple Boot Camp, and Windows Activation

  1. Jorge Schrauwen

    I tried it too with vista… seemed to work fine until a week later it said the hw had change (under bootcamp) and I needed to reactivate.

    Later that day it said the same un vmware fusion so I now have a busted vista install and no way to active it it because i’m over my key quote (I use it 2!!!!) and its been blacklisted… wtf?

  2. Matthew

    Yeah, Vista will randomly decide that it’s no longer activated on you about every three months or so.

    Windows users put up with this because they think that there’s no choice.

  3. Howard Leavitt

    same problem, i now paid for a second license and i cant boot to the partition without reactivating a real pain as you stated. as long as i stay in virtual and not boot directly into windows all is ok

    any suggestions to fix without delete and install again

  4. Smash

    Hello from Italy… πŸ˜‰
    I have a similar problem …
    I reactivated windows xp under vmware boot camp but if we now start the partition bootcamp asks again reactived windows?
    What do I do?

  5. Matt

    Hey, I read the vmware getting started guide. The process for reactivating windows is different than what you give. Instead of reactivating XP in VMware after installing VMware Tools, you’re supposed to reactivate the next time you start up in Boot Camp.

  6. Chinarut

    hey thanks for the tips.

    I’ve been evaluating VMWare Fusion for about 21 days now and I went ahead and booted directly to Boot Camp and activated Windows. I came back to virtualization and used the telephone to activate WinXP – my gripe is after typing the whole # string into the phone, having to read it again to the agent – i felt sorry if this is all she does all day!

    I booted back to Boot Camp and it seems ok for now – I assume it may pester me down the road and I’ve got my fingers crossed that Internet activation will work as it you mention in your update.

    Given this is my first experience with the new activation process – I can’t say it makes a strong case for power users who actually *buy* licenses only to soon discover boot versions of Windows may become valid workarounds and end up putting their “genuine” version of Windows in the closet to live free of such hassle!

    that said – to being good microserf citizens… πŸ˜‰

  7. Cliff

    Installed Leopard
    Installed Bootcamp using a Retail Purchased OEM License
    Activated Successfully
    Installed VMWare Fusion
    Started Bootcamp Partition in VMWare Fusion
    Prompted to Activate Again
    *Failed* automatic activation
    Called product activation line
    Entered long string of numbers
    *Failed* “exceeded product activation!”
    Transferred to product activation person
    *Failed* computers are down, call back in two hours!!!


  8. Durin

    i have installed my computer with Window xp professional with genuine MS. but someone remove the Certificate of Authenticity so i lost the Volume License Key. How to get back the VLK.


  9. Albert

    I have installed windows xp in the boot camp ok. Then I have started the partition boot camp from de vmware fushion but I have a big problem: the mouse and de keyboard doesn’t works!!!There is in the desktop a windows for install new hardware but I don’t push in the button accept!!!

  10. Guilherme

    Small hint: when activating by phone, when they start reading the numbers you can just hang up and request an Internet activation. It will work.

  11. J. Knoxville


  12. al

    Step 4. Install the VMware Tools is not clear. Do I install vmware tools in Mac or in Windows bootcamp? I surfed the net and was told in order to have vmware tools I need vmware workstation. I checked the download site and I tried to download the vmware workstation in my bootcamp. However, I was not sure if I have to install vmware tools inside bootcamp. Anyway, I tried but it seems like you can only install it in a guest machine. So I’m totally lost. Can you help?


  13. Robert Brewer Post author

    You want to be in VMware Fusion when you install the VMware Tools. In fact, I don’t think there is any way to install them outside of VMware. VMware Workstation is a different product not designed for Mac OS X, so don’t use that.

  14. Tom Blume

    I am considering eliminating the Boot Camp partition on my hard drive, having made an attempt to make sure that all the files there are backed up. Can anyone see a problem with removing the partition and relying on my Fusion virtual machine for all my Windows needs?

  15. Robert Brewer Post author

    Assuming that you aren’t using the Boot Camp partition from Fusion, and don’t anticipate using any Window software that needs full hardware access (like games, or 3D graphics programs), I expect it should be fine.

  16. Eli B

    Question: I installed VMWare Fusion and WinXP Pro boots up to the login screen. After clicking on my name, I am prompted whether or not to activate. I click no, and am sent back to the login screen. Even though I’m not fully booted up, am I booted up enough to install VMWare Tools, so that I don’t go through an infinitely looping activation cycle?


  17. Andrew

    It’s not clear whether it is necessary to log on to Windows XP before trying to install VMTools, but the install appears to hang (unless it is doing a huge download and I haven’t been patient enough to wait?

    There is an option to cancel install which suggests it is trying to install.

    Any ideas?

  18. Robert Brewer Post author

    @Eli B: VMWare tools are installed through Fusion and I think you need to be actually logged in to do so, though I haven’t tried installing them without logging in. Not sure why you are being forced to activate to log in, perhaps you installed long ago and only now are using the VM?

    @Andrew: Again, I assume you need to log in before installing the VMWare Tools. That’s certainly what I did. If you are getting the hang when trying to install without logging in, then I suspect that’s the problem.

  19. Steve

    I installed Mac Parrallels Desktop and a copy I owned of Windows Vista. This has worked fine for the last 30 or so days. Now, when I start Windows, I am told I have a counterfeit version, which I don’t. It still works, but with a limited function. However, the limited function is all I will ever need . Will Windows eventually stop working altogether?

  20. Robert Brewer Post author

    @Steve: I haven’t used Parallels, but it sounds like a Windows activation issue. Did you register Vista when you installed it under Parallels? If not, then the warning you are seeing is because Vista was never registered. The easy solution would be to just register it, since you own the Vista you installed.

    According to http://www.microsoft.com/genuine/downloads/faq.aspx it seems like it will probably continue to function after the 30 days with the limited functionality indefinitely. However, it doesn’t say that explicitly.

    Good luck.

  21. Steve


    Thanks for the reply…I thought I did register it and I know I installed at least a couple of updates. I tried to register when this all started as well. There is an option to validate the software, which hangs up, and another procedure is laid out that requires going to the start button, that has now disappeared. After I chose to use Windows with the limited function, the screen goes directly to Explorer, and I can then do the work I need to do on the site that only works in IE7. I will call them eventually if need be, but I just moved my office and the package with the code is boxed up.


  22. Laurie

    Okay, I use a graphics-intensive Windows program (Revit) so installing VMWare Fusion into the Boot Camp partition is probably the way to go; however, it seems as if there are some problems at the Windows end of this installation. I still have not opened the box to my Fusion software and am feeling very intimidated by all of the above responses. Will introducing Fusion mess up my Windows applications? Will I be better off just rebooting with Boot Camp and return the software ?

  23. John

    Damn Office activation crap. My Mac replaced a crappy laptop that came with vista Home Premium, but I upgraded, so I install Bootcamp, get vista going, impoty into Fuson all coool. Back in native Vista, install and activate Office. Have to go through phone activation as key was on my old laptop. No problems. Office 2007 and Office communicator installed and now I have all the shitty MS software I am forced to use for work.
    Back to OS X, start fusion, Vista, Office – – Activation! Ah crap!
    Oh well, I guess I’ll pirate a copy of XP to set up in another tiny VM, install and activate Office one more time and use it there in VM. Damn, the only reason I got Fusion was to use my bootcamp OS and cut managing and patching 3 OS’s down to 2. 8(
    But hey, OpenOffice.org 3 is out yesterday, and works fine in all my OS’s with no activation hassles. 8)

  24. GoveZone

    I just did what you described above in exactly that order yesterday and I too can confirm that by activating WinXP over the phone was the final step to make it all work. Now I need to figure out how to do the same B.S. for some other Microsoft products such as OneNote 😦

  25. PatC

    I have a dual boot iMAC and have been using it with dual boot for a year now. The issue I have is with the re-activation with Win XP as has been mentioned on various posts here. I was forced to re-activate after trying the VMware Fusion session while in the MAC operating system. I get an indication that I’ve activated too many times. I thought it wasn’t a problem and killed the session and continued to use the dual boot as always. I booted back up into Windows XP and the issue was there now which never existed before. It seems the VMWare session has now affecting my normal Windows XP boot that always worked before. Short of my Windows XP getting de-activated and now I went past the 2 day window, my OS is useless. I like have a chance calling Microsoft. It’s all great as advertised how great you can run both OS’s at the same time but if you dual boot you risk getting locked out of your original dual boot process that always worked so well. I hate to lose the VMWare feature in itself if all was perfect would be a gem. What a racket with Microsoft. I refuse to buy another copy of Windows XP. Also VMWARE doesn’t mention this issue you “Might” run into with Microsoft. If it wasn’t for a few products that only work under windows I would give up Windows all together (always the issue with MACs – not a whole lot of selection, software creators just don’t all want to make code for MACS helps kill an otherwise very stable operating system that would have the potential to kill Microsoft – too bad)

  26. Robert Brewer Post author

    @PatC. Sorry to hear about your activation issues. Windows licensing is indeed infuriating. I haven’t had the problems you experienced, but I rarely boot into Windows, almost all my use is through Fusion.

  27. John Thomas

    Robert, in all of the above posts, it’s only clear in one or two of them whether the problems come from using OEM, “For distribution with a new PC only,” copies of Windows. That’s what I have. It’s Windows XP Home Edition, and I’m currently running it from Bootcamp. I’ve downloaded, paid for, and installed VMware Fusion Version 3.0.0 (204229), but I’m scared to death of running it for fear of unactivating and thereby ruining the damned bootcamp XP. Am I out of luck? What’s the right thing to do?

  28. Robert Brewer Post author

    @John Thomas, my experiences with VMware have not involved an OEM version, so I can’t say whether or not that makes a difference.

    My guess is that you will be able to use VMware without breaking your Boot Camp installation. Later versions of VMware have taken pains to reduce the reactivation problem, but you might have to reactivate once in Boot Camp after upgrading. You should be able make a low-level backup of up your Boot Camp partition, and then if things go awry, you could restore from your backup.

    Good luck.


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