10 days after being installed, my “180 day evaluation” version of Windows Server 2019 has decided it is expired and will not activate. After trying unsuccessfully with both the telephone and their new web-based offline activation system (which you get the option to be text a time-limited link for through the phone system), I rang Microsoft’s support which resulted in being accused of pirating the software twice (according to them the entire “Microsoft Evaluation Center” section of Microsoft’s website does not exist) before being told that in order to use the 180 day trial I had to first buy a full licence (no, I cannot figure out how that is supposed to work either!).

Wondering if the failure to activate was related to it having expired, I tried installing another copy of the Evaluation version onto a fresh VM and was still unable to activate that fresh-install over the phone. After researching online, it would appear it is simply not possible to activate evaluation versions offline and, worse, the unactivated Evaluation version only gives 10 days grace while people suggest that an install from the full version CD image (although Microsoft do not seem to offer that as a download option) gives 30 days grace before it expires.

In order to get directly to the telephone (offline) activation page, one can run slui 0x4 from the Windows command prompt. I did try rearming Windows in the existing installation (slmgr -rearm) which reset the 10 day expiry but the installation ID remained the same, and by this point I knew Microsoft’s activation system was rejecting it consistently.

Since by now I had a second install, I added it as a second domain controller to the existing one (which was now in a reset 10-day activation grace period) so I did not have to rebuild the entire configuration if I get locked out of the first. I also gave the new DC (Win2k19-DC2) a sticky IP address with DHCP and had it handed out at a 2nd DNS server, on the switch (using the same process as I previously documented).

Looking for a way, online, to do the offline activation (the irony is not lost on me), I did stumble across KMS emulators and routes to migrate evaluation to other versions. In theory these would bypass the air-gapped network activation issue and with a little DNS foo would allow automatic activation. Hoever this would not be compliant with Microsoft’s EULA (i.e. accusations of pirating the software would be accurate if I tried this) or allows real-world evaluation of how Windows Server might be deployed in an air-gapped production environment.

Update 2 March 2022: I had a phone call from a Microsoft partner, who Microsoft had passed my details onto in order to sell me a Server licence. They listened to my tale of woe and the chap who initially rang even went and asked his technical colleagues if they might know of a solution for me. From my own research, it seems my best option might be to buy a personal Visual Studio Professional Subscription (at the pricey sum of £1,378pa although it does include $50/month of Azure credit) and use the subscription (what used to be MSDN) to get access to Windows Server for dev/testing.

For now, I am looking into scripting the initial configuration with Powershell (and probably need to look at using Terraform with Proxmox to script the initial install) so I can just reinstall each one every 10 days. Sigh