Five things every TechNet subscriber needs to do before time runs out

The hands-down best deal Microsoft ever offered is about to shut down. The TechNet subscriptions service will continue for a little more than a year, but some important deadlines are coming up fast. Here's what you need to know.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft announced this week that it plans to retire its TechNet subscriptions service. For current TechNet subscribers, that means the clock is now ticking. If you want to maintain access to your TechNet benefits for as long as possible, you have some important deadlines coming up.

I’ve put together a checklist of five things every TechNet customer should do as soon as possible to avoid unpleasant surprises.

1. Check your subscription’s expiration date

The TechNet subscription portal will be open until September 30, 2014, but your subscription probably ends sooner than that. (As you can see below, mine ends on July 9, so this notice came just in time.)

After signing in to your TechNet account, click My Account in the navigation bar. That takes you to the management console, where you should zero in on the Account box, shown below.


The status and expiration date appear at the bottom of the box. Armed with that information you can decide what you need to do between now and August 31, 2013. That’s when Microsoft will stop offering new TechNet subscriptions and renewals to retail customers. (If you find a deal from a reseller, you have until September 30, 2013, to activate it.)

If your subscription ends between now and September 30, 2013, you are eligible for a one-time renewal, which extends your subscription by a year. Subscriptions that end on October 1, 2013, or later are not eligible to new renewed. If your expiration date is relatively soon (especially if it’s before the end of 2013), you might consider buying a new subscription and activating it on or shortly before September 30 to get the maximum term available.

Renewals are $149 (TechNet Standard) and $249 (TechNet Professional) for the online versions. A new subscription from Microsoft costs $50 more: $199 (Standard) and $349 (Professional). Some retailers offer small discounts on retail TechNet packages. To see the differences between the two subscription packages, see Microsoft's TechNet subscriptions comparison chart.

Note that if you currently have a TechNet Professional account, you can downgrade it to TechNet Standard for the $149 renewal rate. That saves $100, in exchange for which you give up the right to download most enterprise-specific programs.

You should also find out if you qualify for other Microsoft programs, such as an MSDN subscription or the Microsoft Action Pack Subscription (MAPS). You might discover that the alternative offering is a better deal than sticking with your TechNet subscription to the bitter end.

2. Claim the product keys you need

For each product at your subscription level, you’re entitled to a fixed number of product keys. (You have a generous number of allowed activations for each of those keys, however.)

Over the past few years, Microsoft has dropped the number of keys available for commonly pirated products such as Windows and Office. For example, you used to be able to download 10 product keys for each Windows version, a number that has been cut down to three today.


It's also worth noting here that if you had a TechNet subscription before July 2012, the terms of your agreement provided perpetual use rights. If you previously set up an evaluation server or a test PC or a virtual machine using TechNet software, the license rights for that installation are perpetual and do not expire when the agreement ends or the service is discontinued.

It is, of course, possible that Microsoft will at some point in the future deactivate some product keys acquired through TechNet. That right is explicitly stated in the TechNet Subscription Agreement:

Key activity is monitored. Microsoft reserves the right to suspend or terminate your subscription, without any notice or obligation to you, if Microsoft detects suspicious activity related to keys or activations. ... Microsoft may deactivate or otherwise limit your keys when your subscription ends. Deactivated keys will not be able to activate software.

If you had the foresight to download as many product keys as you were allowed back when your subscription was new, you’ll still find those keys in your account; the extras aren’t taken away. Some products, notably Windows consumer versions, are no longer included in TechNet subscriptions. But keys you claimed before those products were removed are still valid and available in your subscription portal.

Microsoft currently allows inactive subscribers to log in using the email address previously associated with their subscription. That allows you to access the TechNet subscribers' portal and retrieve previously claimed product keys. With an expired subscription, you can't claim additional keys or download software. 

You can generate new keys for any product from its listing or from the Product Keys page. Just click Get A Key or Get Another Key.

Before you start claiming product keys, though, be aware that Microsoft imposes a daily overall limit of 10 product keys per account. After you hit the 10-key limit, you see this error if you try to claim another:


If your goal is to stockpile product keys, you’ll need to plot out a multi-day strategy for getting that job done.

3. Save your list of product keys

When you’re signed into your TechNet account, you can view your entire list on the Product Keys page. Microsoft recommends that you keep a local backup of those keys, a recommendation I endorse wholeheartedly.

You have at least three ways to save your Product Keys list:

  • Select the entire list in tour web browser and use the Clipboard to copy it to Word, Evernote, Google Docs, or whatever you use to store formatted text.
  • If you have OneNote installed, open the Product Keys page in Internet Explorer, right-click on the page, and then click Send To OneNote. Choose a page in a notebook on SkyDrive and you’ll be able to get to that list from anywhere.
  • Download the list in XML format (you can open it in Excel or any XML editor) by clicking the Export To XML button in the top right corner of the page.

Save the file in a safe place.

4. Download installation files and save them to local storage

A TechNet subscription entitles you to download the installation files for any products included at your subscription level. These are typically in ISO format, which you can then burn to disk or mount as a virtual drive.

If you anticipate that you might have use for specific versions of programs later, after your TechNet subscription has expired, now would be an excellent time to download what you need. Note that many products are available in both x86 and x64 versions, meaning you might need two downloads to cover all possible installation possibilities.

5. Activate your Office 365 subscription benefits

Every TechNet subscription includes five Office 365 Enterprise (E3) licenses, which are good for one year. The one-year Office 365 subscription term begins on the day you activate this benefit and is not tied to the expiration date of your TechNet subscription. So if your TechNet subscription expires next week but you activate the Office 365 licenses today, you can continue to use those five licenses for a year from today.

To activate those Office 365 for TechNet Subscriptions licenses, sign in to TechNet and head for the My Account page. Click the Activate Office 365 link to get started.


Note that if you already have an Office 365 Enterprise account you can assign the TechNet licenses to it. Sign in with your existing organizational account credentials to have the block of five licenses assigned to that account. After you complete the initial sign-up, you can see the newly added block of licenses in the Office 365 portal:


Each of the five licenses gives you the right to install the Office 2013 ProPlus software on up to five devices—any combination of PCs, Macs, and iPhones.

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