Windows Vista has strict anti-piracy and anti-counterfeit feature in the new feature called Software Protection Platform (SPP). Under SPP, Windows Production Activation (WPA) has been upgraded to version 2.0, which requires all Windows Vista system activates online against Microsoft activation services or corporate KMS (Key Management Service) server. If the Windows Vista installation is not activated within the grace period, or been validated by Windows Vista Genuine Advantage as not genuine after activation (less severe with premium features disabled and 1-hour auto logoff usage limit, not a topic of this article), Windows Vista will run in Reduced Functionality Mode (RFM), with severely limited features enabled.

When Windows Vista placed in RFM due to out-of-grace RFM (no activation done within grace period) boots up, it will display the Windows Activation window or screen with four choices upon logon to Windows Vista:

Windows Vista Reduced Functionality Mode

The error message is:

Activate Windows Now

Your activation period has expired and Windows is no longer working.
To use Windows you must activate this copy of Windows.

Users will be presented with 4 options or choices:

  1. Activate Windows online now
  2. Access your computer with reduced functionality (This will also allow you to buy a product key online)
  3. Retype your product key
  4. Show me other ways to activate

Official legal ways and solutions to remedy, exit or recover from the Reduced Functionality Mode

Microsoft recommends the following options for exiting Reduced Functionality Mode:

  1. Users who already have a product key but have not activated their machine should click “Activate Windows online now.”
  2. By choosing “Access your computer with reduced functionality.” This is likely to be the option you will choose if you don’t have a valid or genuine product key for Windows Vista. The annoying part of RFM is that the default Web browser will be started and the user will be presented with an option to purchase a new product key. There is no start menu, no desktop icons, and the desktop background is changed to black. The Web browser will fully function and Internet connectivity will not be blocked. After one hour, the system will log the user out without warning. It will not shut down the machine, and the user can log back in. Note that Vista RFM is different from the Windows XP RFM experience, which limits screen resolution, colors, sounds and other features. If you’re facing this problem, see the last section below for workaround to bring back or restore access to Vista desktop.
  3. If the user has acquired another product key (either through eligibility for a MAK or purchasing a key online), they can use the new key to activate by choosing “Retype your product key.” Then accept the user acceptance prompt, type in the new Vista product key, and then click Next.
  4. If no Internet connection is detected, then “Show me other ways to activate” will be available; the user can select this option to follow steps to activate via telephone. This option won’t be active if an Internet connection is present on the system.
  5. Volume licensing customers can return to normal Windows operating mode by connecting to a KMS service to automatically renew the activation or obtain a MAK.
  6. If the system is in RFM because of hardware changes, the user can restore the original hardware configuration.
  7. Contact Microsoft for help.

Workaround to bypass Reduced Functionality Mode to get back full access of Vista system and access Windows Vista desktop

Windows Vista in Reduced Functionality Mode has no start menu, no desktop icons, no taskbar and the desktop background is changed to black. Only the default Web browser is launched with Microsoft Licensing website auto loading in the browser, although you can still browse the Internet. After one hour, the system will log the user out without warning. Even Ctrl + Alt + Delete and Ctrl + Shift + Escape key sequences don’t work.

Pretty annoying, especially if you still unable to get your Windows Vista activated but has some urgent things to do. Here is how you can crack the Reduced Functionality Mode so that Windows Vista will return to normal state, and thus exit from RFM, by rearm Windows by opening elevated command prompt:

  1. Type the following in the address bar of Internet Explorer: file://c:
  2. You will be shown Windows Explorer. Browse or navigate to \Windows\System32 folder.
  3. Find cmd.exe file.
  4. Right click on cmd.exe and select Run as Administrator. If UAC prompts for confirmation, click OK.
  5. Then, rearm Windows Vista if you never rearm or reset Windows Vista activation grace period for maximum of 3 times.
  6. You may want to uninstall KB929391 if you go into RFM due to validation.

Here are a few more ways you can do to crack the Reduced Functionality Mode to gain almost full access to the Windows Vista in RFM, including get back your normal desktop, taskbar, Start Menu and etc, every time you restart PC or logon:

Method 1

Type in C:\Windows\explorer.exe in Internet Explorer 7 Address Bar. The explorer.exe will reload. Explorer.exe is the Windows Program Manager or Windows Explorer or user shell which manages the Windows Graphical Shell including the Start menu, taskbar, desktop, and File Manager. Once it’s restart back, the desktop, start menu and icons will be restored. Click on Execute or Run when prompted with new window.

Method 2

Same as above, but slightly longer step, wrote here for reference purpose.

  1. In the Internet Explorer, key in the following text in the Address Bar, and then press Enter or click on green Go button to start the Windows Explorer:C:\



  2. Click on Allow button when Internet Explorer prompts a dialog asking if you’d like to allow Windows Explorer to run.
  3. Navigate or browse to C:\Windows\System32 folder.
  4. Double click on Taskmgr.exe to launch Task Manager manually as the keyboard shortcuts don’t work.
  5. In Task Manager, click on Processes tab.
  6. Select and highlight explorer.exe process.
  7. Restart explorer.exe process by clicking on File and then select New Task (Run…).
  8. Windows Explorer will start itself all over again, with the exception that this time it will load your desktop, Start Menu, taskbar and other functions except premium features.

Note: If your session closes, do not close the activation window.

Even after you restore the desktop, taskbar and Start menu, you may still facing problem when accessing Control Panel. When you open Control Panel, it will show up as a blank page. The hack to show Control Panel in RFM is as below. You need to recover Vista desktop first before you can do it:

  1. Open Computer.
  2. Click on Uninstall or change a program to load “Programs and Features”.
  3. Next click on Control Panel in the address bar’s breadcrumb.
  4. Control Panel will display with full access.

Note: The premium features include Windows Aero Glass (you will has only Windows Vista Basic theme as user interface if you hack into Windows in RFM) and Windows Media Center. Beside, the limitation on 1-hour maximum usage time still apply, so you can only use the Vista computer for 1 hour before your active session expires and system logs off automatically without warning message. Beside, there may be another limitation that you can only open and run 3 applications or programs simultaneously at any one time.

Update: Recover from Reduced Functionality Mode in Windows