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FIXED: Activate Windows Before You Can Personalize Your PC

Learn about how you can activate your Windows to personalize your PC with ease.

If you’re getting the “you need to activate Windows before you can personalize your PC” error on your PC, you need to purchase a copy of the Windows legally. In case you don’t, you need to rely on other tools to personalize your PC. 

Key Takeaways

  • Non-activated Windows means you don’t have a legally purchased copy of the operating system, and thus you’ll be prevented from using certain “personalization” options on your operating system, such as changing wallpapers and applying new themes
  • MS Paint, Photos, Internet Explorer, and File Explorer are some easy ways to apply wallpapers of your choice without downloading any third-party software, even if you have a non-activated Windows
  • The Group Policy Editor option to unlock themes on non-activated Windows is only available to Windows 10 and 11 Pro users and not available to those using Windows 10 Home or another edition. 
Watermark Activate Windows
Watermark Activate Windows – Image Credits [Tech4Gamers]

What’s Windows Activation?

Windows activation is the process of validating your copy of Windows and proving that you own it legally. When you don’t have a legally purchased copy of Windows installed on your PC, Microsoft prompts you with its “Activate Windows” watermark. 

What Happens When Your Windows Isn’t Activated?

While you can do most of the stuff normally on your PC, it’s the few aesthetic elements that you won’t be able to control. For example, you will not be able to set new desktop backgrounds using the “personalization” feature on your Windows. 

Other things that you won’t be able to change on your non-activated Windows include accent colors of your Windows and taskbar, themes, and fonts. As said earlier, it’s not a deal breaker, but it will annoy you a lot when you are finally tired of seeing the same background and want to change it as soon as possible. 

You can rest assured that there are solutions to this problem, albeit temporarily. To be fair, it would make more sense if we called them workarounds since none of those methods will guarantee a permanent fix

Thinking about building your PC from scratch? Here are PC-building mistakes you must avoid before starting this venture. 

Inserting The Product Key To Activate Windows

The best way to get rid of the “you need to activate Windows before you can personalize your PC” error is to activate your Windows. Perhaps, you bought a fresh copy of Windows but forgot to install the product key at the time of installation. You can always insert it later. Here is how you can do it. 

Windows Settings Update and Security
Windows Settings Update and Security – Image Credits [Tech4Gamers]
Before providing you with these steps, we assume you have a valid product key to insert and activate your Windows. So, here are the steps to do it. 

  1. Click on the “Start” menu from the bottom left of the screen and click on “Settings,” or you can search for “Settings” in the search bar beside the “Start” menu button.
  2. Once you click on “Settings,” you will be in the settings menu with many options. Please select “Update and Security.” It should be one of the last options. 
  3. Once you are in the next window, look at the menu on the left side and click on “Activation.” 
  4. Now select the “Update Product Key” option.
  5. Insert the valid product key you have and press enter. 

After completing these steps, you should be able to use your Windows as normal. Of course, you will be able to change your wallpapers, themes, fonts, and accents however you like. 

Care to know some shortcuts to shut down your PC without using a mouse? Our How To Shut Down PC With A Keyboard guide will be a great read for you. 

Applying Wallpaper On Non-activated Windows

In case you can’t make the “you need to activate Windows before you can personalize your PC” error go away, you need to learn about some alternatives. One of the biggest issues you will face when you have a non-activated copy of Windows is the lock on your wallpapers. You can’t change your wallpapers from the “Personalization” menu. Again, you don’t have to worry since there are many ways to work around this problem. Let’s take a look at these solutions one by one. 

Using MS Paint

MS Paint for Desktop Background
MS Paint for Desktop Background – Image Credits [Tech4Gamers]
Surprisingly, one of the best ways to change your wallpaper is to use one of the pre-installed Microsoft apps called Paint. Here are the steps you can follow to apply your favorite wallpaper as a desktop background. 

  1. Click on the “Start” menu button and click on “Paint” or search “Paint” in the search bar at the bottom left. 
  2. From the top left, click on “File” and then click on “Open.”
  3. Look for the desired image in the folder and open it. 
  4. Click on “File” again and move your mouse pointer down to the “Set As Desktop Background,” and click on it to set the wallpaper.

The best part about this method is that you can select from the “Fill,”Tile,” and “Center” options to get the desired result. Before continuing further, make sure to check out our guide on how to install a liquid CPU cooler on your PC

Using Your Browser

You can use the browser on your computer to set your desktop background. The best part is that you don’t have to have a specific browser. Yes, even Microsoft Edge would work. In this case, we are using Internet Explorer

  • Click on the “Start” menu or search “Internet Explorer” by typing it out in your search bar next to the start button. 
  • Once Internet Explorer opens, drag and drop the desired wallpaper and drag it onto your browser. 
  • Open the menu by right-clicking on the image inside Internet Explorer and selecting the “Set As Desktop Background” option. 

In 3 easy steps, you will have a new background wallpaper making your desktop look fresh.

Using File Explorer

File Explorer for Desktop Background
Windows File Explorer Menu – Image Credits [Tech4Gamers]
It’s good to know that Microsoft hasn’t completely prevented its users from changing their backgrounds. Changing the wallpaper on your desktop is as easy as going into the folder where you have your wallpapers saved, picking one, and applying it as your desktop background. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Open your “File Explorer” by clicking on “This PC” from the “Start” menu or double-clicking on the “This PC” icon on the desktop. 
  2. Head over to the folder where you have the wallpapers saved. 
  3. Right-click on the wallpaper you want to set and click on “Set As Desktop Background.”
  4. Return to your desktop to see the changed wallpaper. It might take a few seconds to apply the new wallpaper at times, so be patient. 

Of course, you will always have to manually change the wallpaper every time you want a fresh one.

Using Photos

you need to activate Windows before you can personalize your PC
MS Photos Image Menu – Image Credits [Tech4Gamers]
Here are the steps to set a desktop background using this option. 

  1. Open the folder where you have the wallpaper saved. 
  2. Right-click on the wallpaper you wish to apply as your desktop background. 
  3. Move your mouse pointer to “Open With” and select “Photos.” 
  4. Once the image opens, click on the “Three Dots” in the top ribbon menu.
  5. Hover your mouse pointer over the “Set As” option.
  6. Select the “Background” option from the submenu to apply your new desktop background. 

Using Photos is a great option as it allows you to set the image as your lock screen background or even as an app tile

Using Registry Files

Windows Registry Editor
Windows Registry Editor – Image Credits [Tech4Gamers]
This method requires you to take quite a few steps. Also, you can call it the relatively riskier option, as meddling with the registry files of your Windows can cause problems with how your operating system acts. Here are the steps you will follow to allow desktop backgrounds from your registry files

  1. Press Windows + R key on your keyboard to open the “Run” window and type “regedit” in the search box or click on the “Search” option next to “Start” and type “regedit.” 
  2. If you have used the Windows + R key option, it will take you to the “Registry Edit” window, but if you have used the search option, you will now click on “Run As An Administrator” to open the Registry Editor.
  3. Here’s the path you will follow from the menu to the left: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies
  4. Once you are there, open the “Policies” menu by right-clicking on it and then moving your mouse pointer to “New” to open the submenu. 
  5. Click on “Key” in the submenu. It will ask you to give it a name–please type “System.”
  6. Now you can see your new “System” key. Right-click on it and select “String Value” from the “Key” menu again. 
  7. You will now rename this key to “Wallpaper,” open it after renaming by double-clicking and giving it the path to the wallpaper that you want to set as your background. 
  8. Once done, click “Ok,” and the new wallpaper should show as your desktop background. 

You can restart the computer to view the changes if the desktop background doesn’t apply. Also, suppose you want to avoid any mishaps and don’t like the new changes with your registry. In that case, you can revert the changes by going back to the registry editor, following until step 4, and then deleting your System key. 

Ever thought about how much your PC is worth? Let us help you with that using our How Much Is My PC Worth guide. 

Using Group Policy

you need to activate Windows before you can personalize your PC
Group Policy Editor – Image Credits [Tech4Gamers]
Another method to get your desired background is using the Group Policy option. However, please know that this method might work best on Windows 11. Here is what you need to do. 

  1. In the search box next to your “Start” menu, type “gpedit” or simply click on “Start” and type it out. 
  2. Clicking on the app will take you to Group Policy Editor.
  3. Once there, click on “Configuration” and then choose “Administrative Templates.”
  4. After the last method, you will click on “Desktop” and then again on the “Desktop” option that will open after double-clicking on the first one. 
  5. Now, inside the big window to the right of the menu, you have “Desktop Wallpaper.”
  6. Double-click on it, and you will be taken to a new window. 
  7. You will now see 3 options: “Not Configured,” “Enabled,” and “Disabled.” Click on “Enabled.”
  8. Right beneath these options, you have the “Wallpaper Name” option, where you can point to the folder and wallpaper you want to set. It will also offer you the “Center,” “Fill,” and other options to set your background. 
  9. Choose “Apply” from the buttons at the bottom and click “Ok” to save the settings. 
  10. Reboot your PC to make sure the new changes apply.

Yes, it’s a long process, but if you have a wallpaper that you like, you can apply it and keep it for several days before repeating the same process to set a new background. 

Applying Themes On Non-activated Windows

Just like wallpapers, you can also install and apply themes to your Windows operating system even if it is not activated. However, in this particular case, you will only use the Registry Files and Group Policy options. Let’s take a look at both methods. 

Using Registry Editor

Registry Editor Command
Registry Editor Command – Image Credits [Tech4Gamers]
Yet again, it is important to know here that changing your registry files can cause certain programs to misbehave. Therefore, it would make sense to set up a restore point for your computer that you can revert to later if things go south. Here’s how you will follow this method to apply the theme of your choice. 

  1. Use “Run Command” by pressing Windows + R key together and type “regedit” in it and press enter. 
  2. Once you have opened the “Registry Editor”, follow this path: Computer>HKEY_CURRENT_USER>SOFTWARE>Microsoft>Windows>CurrentVersion>Policies
  3. Now, you will click on the “Key” option in the menu, which you will open by right-clicking “Policies” and hovering over “New.” 
  4. You can use “Explorer” as the name of your newly created key. 
  5. You can now see the new key in the left menu where you will right-click on it again to open the submenu and then move your mouse pointer to “New.”
  6. Once there, select the “DWORD (32-bit) Value” option. 
  7. Clicking on it will ask you to name your DWORD, which you can select as NoThemesTab.
  8. Once you have named it, you can now double-check the new key to confirm that its value is “0” by double-clicking it. If it’s zero, you have done your job. 
  9. You can now reboot your PC for the changes to take effect. 

You should now be able to apply any theme you want. 

Using Group Policy Editor

you need to activate Windows before you can personalize your PC
Group Policy Editor Command – Image Credits [Tech4Gamers]
You can follow this method for both Windows 11 and Windows 10, but both should have the Pro edition for the changes to take effect. Here are the steps we’ll follow to make changes to the group policy. 

  1. Type “gpedit” in the search box at the bottom left or open the menu by clicking on the “Start” icon and typing “gpedit.” If you’re using Windows 10, you might have to use the command “gpedit.msc” in the “Run” window. 
  2. Now, you are inside the Group Policy Editor, where you will click on “User Configuration” in the left menu, which will show you 3 options to the right, with “Administrative Templates” as the last option. Double-click on it to go to “Control Panel.”
  3. From “Control Panel,” select “Personalization” and then open “Prevent Theme Change” by double-clicking on it. You’ll see this option in the panel on the right side. 
  4. Once you have opened this option, you will see 3 radio buttons i.e. “Not Configured,” “Enabled,” and “Disabled.” Select “Disabled.” 
  5. Apply, click on “Okay,” and close. Reboot your PC, and now you can change the look of your operating system with the theme you like the most. 

Remember that the group policy editor is only available to those Windows 10 users who are using the Pro version. You will have to use the registry editor option if you use any Windows 10 version other than Pro

Are you interested in knowing your PC specs in detail? Here is our guide on How To Check PC Specs to help you with that. 

Final Thoughts

This was everything you needed to know about “you need to activate Windows before you can personalize your PC” error. Hopefully, you now know a variety of methods that you can use to apply your favorite themes and desktop wallpapers to your PC despite having the “Activate Windows” watermark appearing at the bottom right of your Windows. 

The most important thing we’d like to recommend here is to not meddle with other options when making changes to your registry files and group policies. Furthermore, you can always make a one-time expense to get your hands on a valid copy of Windows and use it for many years without ever worrying about such issues. 


How do I find out if I have an activated version of Windows?

You can always use the Update & Security option to know the status of your Windows by accessing it from your Start menu and typing Settings. Inside the Update & Security option, click on “Activation” in the left menu to know the status.

Can I use the group policy editor to apply Windows 10 Home Edition wallpapers?

No, you can use the group policy editor option for changing wallpapers on the non-activated Windows 10 Pro edition only.

Can I enable the dark theme on non-activated windows?

You can’t change the default light theme on your non-activated Windows unless you use one of the workarounds we have shared.

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Sameed Hussain
Sameed Hussain
With a major in Computer Science, Sameed is a tech enthusiast who puts his passion for gadgets into words and creates informative blogs. From breaking the latest, most credible news to comparing different hardware to reviewing the best RAMs, motherboards, and graphics cards for your next build, Sameed has covered a wide spectrum of topics that have given him a special insight into every nook and cranny of the tech world.



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