Windows and Microsoft Office go hand in hand, but that doesn’t always mean the likes of Word, Excel and PowerPoint are pre-installed when you buy a new device.
Indeed, Windows 11 doesn’t come with Microsoft Office by default. Unless you’re willing to pay for a Microsoft 365 subscription, a standalone version of Office is probably your best alternative.
Recent versions are automatically linked to your Microsoft account, so you’ll just need to sign in there on every device you want it installed on – provided it supports more than one.
But before 2013, Office still relied on Product Keys. These are unique 25-character codes which are required each time the apps are re-installed.
After purchasing it (from the Microsoft website or elsewhere), you may prompted to enter the Product Key for every device you choose to install it on. This is a unique 25-character code that’s sometimes required for activation purchases.
But what about if the worst happens and you lose your product key? Does that mean you can’t reinstall Office again?
Fortunately, all is not lost. Here’s how to retrieve your Office product key via Windows.
How can I find an Office product key (2013 or later)?
On modern versions of Office, you might not even need a product key. Head to account.microsoft.com from your new device, then see if you can download the apps via your purchase history.
But if Office was pre-installed when you bought your PC or laptop, you might find a sticker on the machine itself with the code.
Whether Office was pre-installed or not, here’s the bad news: Microsoft changed how product keys are stored, so beginning with Microsoft Office 2013, only the last five digits of the 25-character code are stored in the Registry for Office 2013, 2016, 2019 and 2021.
What this means is that – as with all Windows product keys – any code that a keyfinder app shows you will not work. If the first 20 digits are shown at all for an Office product, they will be generic.
The useful part, though, is that the last five digits should be the correct ones for your license which means you can search your email and computer’s hard drive to see if you find any emails or matching files which contain the full product key.
If that fails, your remaining options are to do a full factory reset on your computer (but only if there is a recovery partition that includes all the original software that came with it) or to buy a new copy of Office.
However, if you weren’t aware, there are a few excellent free office suites which work just like Microsoft’s version and can save in the same formats, which means files you create with them can be opened and edited by others using Microsoft Office. See our recommendations for the best Office alternatives here.
How do I find my Office product key (pre-2013)?
For older versions, you may have thought to locate the product key by hunting through the Windows Registry, but the codes are encrypted. Luckily, there are plenty of apps that will do all the legwork for you.
Our favourite of these is ProduKey, a free app which will delve into the Registry to fish out and decrypt your Office product key (Office 2010 or earlier).
Once downloaded, run it and it will immediately display the product keys of any Microsoft Office software up to (but not including) 2013, as well as the keys of legacy operating systems such as Windows Vista, 7 and 8. Then you can either copy the keys for future use, or export them to a HTML file and save it for future reference.
If it doesn’t work, try Belarc Advisor, or if you’re willing to pay for software, Recover Keys is able to scan more deeply than any free app.
Although you’re probably interested in finding only your Office product key, Recover Keys supports over 10,000 apps. It can scan remote Windows and Mac computers, recover license keys from external storage, scan multiple Windows installations, and can even run from a USB drive. And at $29.95/£24.95, it’s cheaper than buying another copy of Office.
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If you need it, here’s how to get the product key for Windows itself.