Windows Server 2012 / Windows 8 activation boondoggle

On my VERY FIRST activation of Windows Server 2012 Standard today, I got the incredibly unhelpful error message “The filename, directory name or volume label syntax is incorrect.”

My first reaction, of course, was “PC Load Letter?!”

My second was to google the error. Unfortunately, but probably not all that surprisingly, INCREDIBLE amounts of weird issues that have nothing to do with each other can spring this error on you. Eventually, I found the one that was actually related to activation of Windows 8, which is the same issue that Server 2012 has. The problem is that MS has configured Windows 8 and Server 2012 by default to look for a Key Management Server… which it isn’t going to find, if you aren’t in an enterprise that maintains a KMS. And it’s not bright enough to fallback to just asking you for an old-style MAK product key, which is almost certainly what you have.

The fix is to go to the command prompt. Which can ALSO be confusing… what you do is, hit the Windows key and type cmd (there’s no visible search box UNTIL you start typing. But just start typing. Yay, Metro interface.) then press enter.  This brings up the familiar old “dos” console.  From there, you want to type in:

slmgr.vbs /ipk  XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX

… use your actual product key instead of all those Xs, of course.  You should very quickly get a popup Windows Script Host window that says “Installed Product Key XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX successfully”.  Now when you go back to activate your Server 2012 or Windows 8 installation, it will activate successfully.

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Jim Salter

Mercenary sysadmin, open source advocate, and frotzer of the jim-jam.

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