The solution to this was simple - i needed to run the Office product (whichever one i was using to do the activation, Outlook in my case) as admin. I am in the admin group, but that is not sufficient (because even when you are logged in as administrator, processes you spawn still run at a reduced privilege level) - you need to run the process as administrator. There is an extra step involved when trying to do this with an Office product, as the installed shortcuts don't give you the Run as administrator option when you right click on them.
- determine where the Office product is installed to*, i.e. it will usually be C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office12
- find the exe of one of the products, so you want to find WINWORD.EXE, EXCEL.EXE, OUTLOOK.EXE or MSACCESS.EXE, right click on the file, select Run as administrator
- click Yes on the UAC prompt, or select the Administrator user and enter the admin password if you get that prompt
- if you are running Word/Excel/Access, click on the launch orb in the top left corner, select Word Options/Excel Options/Access Options, in the Options popup dialog select Resources, then select activate Microsoft Office
- if you are running Outlook from the step above, select Help->Activate Product
- in the activation dialog, select the activate via internet option, click Next
- Office should now activate. If it doesn't then you may have a firewall, proxy, or general connection problem.
*note that because the Office products have a special sort of shortcut installed, you cannot just right click on the short cut and go Properties->General to find the path to the executable, as the path shown in that tab will be the path to the shortcut file itself, not the product executable
Keywords: Office 2007 activation, activation error, Windows 7