Will Windows 8 require a product key at the point of installation?

If the Consumer Preview is anything to go by, then yes.

From today's mailbox:

I've noticed that when I install the Windows 8 Consumer Preview I have to enter a product key during installation. There doesn't seem to be an option to install the operating system and then add the product key down the line. Being able to install the OS without having to enter a product key was useful in some circumstances (like creating a temporary virtual machine or testing a system).

Will the final release of Windows 8 require a product key during installation?

Yes, I noticed that too. Here's the install screen that prevents you from going any further unless you enter a valid product key:

Notice how that Next button is grayed out? It will stay that way until you enter a product key. This behavior is different to what you see in Windows 7.

So, will the final release of Windows 8 require a product key during installation or not? When reaching out to Microsoft for answers, is that at this stage nothing has been finalized and that things are "in flux".

However, what is interesting is a wording change in the license terms document accompanying the operating system. Here's the relevant entry from the license terms for Windows 8 Consumer Preview relating to activation [emphasis added]:

MANDATORY ACTIVATION. The purpose of activation is to prevent unlicensed use of the software. Activation occurs automatically the first time you use the software if the licensed computer is connected to the Internet. If you cannot activate the software when you first use it, the software will periodically remind you to activate it. You may not bypass or circumvent activation.

This is different to the wording in the Windows 7 license terms document and seems to suggest that activation is automatic and happens as soon as the system connects to the Internet. In order to do this you would need a product key entered during installation. This is a departure from previous versions and could mean that you'll need to enter that product key right at the point of installation, which for some users could be an irritation, such as when creating temporary virtual machines.

The bottom line is we don't know if this change is permanent or not, but if it is it could mean having to enter a product key for each installation, no matter how temporary.