Recover Windows product key from remote installations

There are a number of product key recovery utilities for Windows – Magical Jellybean Keyfinder is the first one that comes to mind, possibly because of the name – but ProduKey is the first I’ve seen that will recover keys from other installations, for example via a local area network or from slave hard drives. It also recovers keys for Office and SQL Server, and at a diminutive 31KB, deserves a place on any technician’s USB drive. It is one of a number of freeware utilities available from the NirSoft website.

Edit: Actually the new version of Magical Jelly Bean has similar functionality, although it’s still in beta at the moment.

How to remove Vista OEM branding

If you don’t feel the need to be reminded of your computer manufacturer every time you use the System or Performance Information & Tools applets, copy the following (italicised) lines into a blank Notepad document and save to your desktop as RemoveBranding.reg. Then double-click the file and accept the prompts to permanently* remove your manufacturer’s name and logo.

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\OEMInformation]
“HelpCustomized”=dword:00000000
“Logo”=””
“SupportHours”=””
“Manufacturer”=””
“SupportPhone”=””
“SupportURL”=””

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winsat\WindowsExperienceIndexOemInfo]
“Logo”=””

If you’d also like to hide the logo from the Welcome Center, rename the oobe.xml file (which you will find in C:\Windows\System32\OOBE\Info) to something else, e.g. oldoobe.xml.

* In case you ever want to restore the System/Performance Info branding, you should first back up the relevant registry keys. To reinstate the Welcome Center branding, simply rename oldoobe.xml back to oobe.xml.

Offline NT Password & Registry Editor

This Linux-based tool, available as a bootable floppy or CD image, can recover user and administrator passwords on Windows NT, 2000, XP and Server 2003 machines. It might look scary, but it greets you with a Douglas Adams-esque “DON’T PANIC” and explains that the default options are OK in most cases (i.e. just keep hitting Enter).

I’ve just tried this and it works remarkably well. It might just save you from reinstalling Windows one day. Of course, it has less legitimate uses, but if you lack good physical security, you have a lot more to worry about (people stealing your machine, for example).

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