When was the last time you bought an operating system? For non-Mac users that practically never happens because you don’t buy an operating system or an upgrade, you buy a computer that comes with the operating system pre-installed and that’s it.
Nowadays, most manufacturers no longer ship their computers with installation discs. Instead they deposit a recovery partition on the hard drive or provide software that allows you to create your own recovery media. Now what do you do when the hard drive breaks and you never prepared recovery CDs?
Do You Have a Windows Product Key?
First, you need to check whether or not you have a Windows product key. If you bought a laptop, there should be a ‘Proof of License Certificate of Authenticity’ sticker from Microsoft at the bottom of the device where the hard drive sits.
If your netbook or laptop has a removable cover at the bottom (e.g. HP Mini), you might have to take it off to see the sticker sitting on or close to the hard drive.
If you bought a desktop computer, you should find that sticker at the back of the computer, close to the power button.
The sticker specifies the version of Windows installed on the computer and the 25 digit product key. If you don’t find that sticker and if you don’t have a proof of license anywhere else, for example on your Windows manual, you’re already in a semi-legal situation and should consider buying the operating system.
How Can I Obtain a Legal Windows Installation Disk
So you found the sticker containing the product key? Congratulations! You technically own a legal copy of Windows. Practically, however, there are few legal ways to obtain an installation disk. You’re stuck in a rut.
A perfectly legal solution would be to contact the manufacturer of your computer and ask whether they offer installation disks in case that the original disk is broken or the recovery partition was compromised. They will probably sell you the recovery media for a small fee. You may also be able to obtain a replacement through Microsoft: How to replace Microsoft software or hardware, order service packs, and replace product manuals
A semi-legal solution would be to borrow an installation disc from a friend to install Windows. Just make sure you use your own product key. Once installed, no one can tell whether or not you used a legal source for the installation and since you own the product key, all is well.
If you don’t have access to an installation disk and don’t want to buy recovery media from the manufacturer, you can download Windows installation files. You will find respective .iso (disk image file) downloads on Torrents and various websites, for example here. This procedure, however, is 100% illegal. Unfortunately, downloading an illegal copy of Windows doesn’t become legal just because you own a genuine product key.
When you buy a computer, make sure it comes with a genuine copy of Windows, i.e. with the ‘Proof of License Certificate of Authenticity’ sticker from Microsoft. If the computer comes with software to create recovery media (e.g. HP PC Recovery CD Creator) or the manufacturer offers such software on their homepage, take advantage and create those recovery media as soon as possible. Otherwise, create a backup of your operating system or clone the recovery partition using software such as Clonezilla.
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