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An activation key is a code that is used to register or activate a software application. It is typically composed of letters and numbers, often with hyphens in between activation key segments.
In the earlier days of software production, the activation key was the common means by which a vendor authenticated customers. Software products were shipped in boxes, on floppy discs and later on compact discs, along with an activation key that allowed the user to get access to the application after purchase.
New software production models are doing away with the activation key as a licensing tool. After the development of cloud computing services, more types of software are being purchased over the web and utilized through the internet on a subscription basis. That eliminates the need to use an activation key to authenticate users. The activation key is a byproduct of a system where a user buys the code and execution software for an application, and downloads all of that code onto his or her own computer or device. That traditional way of licensing is quickly being replaced by newer methods.