Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
You should always get installation media with a new machine. Period. If you can't, or it's too late, we'll look at one partial alternative.
You've always said a person should try to get a full install disk when purchasing a computer. Any suggestions on how to convince a manufacturer you want more than a recovery disk? Reason I ask is I'll probably be getting a new computer some time next year after Windows 7 has been out for a while. I contacted Dell, HP, Acer, Gateway and Toshiba customer support. They all say the same thing: no full install disks are available for consumers... even for an additional price. That means I'll have to spend another $200 - $400 to buy a full install disk (if rumors about Windows 7 prices are correct.)
First, I've never had a problem getting installation CDs with my Dell computers at the time of purchase. It's an option I have to specify, and it adds maybe $20 to the final price, but it is so worth it.
If you're asking after the purchase - say a year later you realize that you didn't get any - then perhaps I'm not surprised they might be reluctant to just hand out another copy, even for a fee. I'd guess that the manufacturers need to protect themselves from people trying to get copies they aren't really entitled to.
There really is no true alternative to having installation media, but I'll throw out one idea to help mitigate the problem in case you find yourself in this situation.
People often wonder why I'm so passionate about this issue. Windows is on your machine, after all, and you probably received a "recovery disk", so why isn't that enough?
The problem is that recovery discs typically don't include Windows. What they will often do is reinstall Windows from a "spare copy" that's been placed on your hard drive - either in the I386 folder, or in a separate recovery partition.
That's just peachy ... when it works.
The scenario that should scare you deeply is total hard drive failure - which happens more often than you might think. When it happens everything on your hard drive is gone. Poof. Everything. Including those "spare" copies of Windows.
Your "recovery disk" no longer has anything to recover from or to.
In other words: you're screwed.
The only way to be prepared for this eventuality is to make sure you have copies of everything so that you can reinstall everything to a completely empty replacement hard drive.
And that means having a Windows installation (not recovery) disc. (It actually also means having installation disks or saved downloads for all the software on your machine, not only Windows. Windows, though, is typically the most important since once installed you may be able to download updates to much of the software you're used to having.)
So order one with your new machine and if the manufacturer won't provide it ... seriously consider purchasing your new machine elsewhere. There's simply no excuse for not making it available at the time of a new machine purchase.
So, what if it's too late, or you just must have a particular machine for which the installation media is not provided?
Once that new machine arrives, as soon as is practically possible, take a full, image backup.
Once you realize you're in this situation with an older machine, as soon as is practically possible, take a full, image backup.
I regularly recommend Acronis TrueImage Home for this purpose - in fact I use it myself. But there are many alternatives out there as well. You're looking for two things:
A backup program that will backup absolutely everything on your machine: your data of course, but all programs, Windows the registry, even temporary files and the recycle bin - absolutely everything. We often refer to this as an "image" of the drive, since it includes a copy of every file.
The ability to restore your backup image to an empty, unbootable hard drive. This is often referred to as a "bare metal" restore, as prior to the restore there's no data in the machine, it's just "bare metal". This typically means that the backup program will provide, or allow you to create, a boot disc that you can use specifically for this purpose.
By taking a backup image or snapshot of the machine as soon as you can, you are preserving the state that the machine is in. No matter what happens in the future, be it hardware or software failure, you can always wipe your machine and revert to the exact state it was in at the time you took this full backup.
Now, in fact, you should be doing this already on a regular basis as part of a backup program to protect you from data loss in event of any number of different types of failures. You should be taking periodic image snapshots of your entire drive, and taking incremental backups of your more rapidly changing files as well. By doing so, you'll always have a relatively recent full-image to restore to should the worst happen.
However, even if you disregard my backup advice, make sure to take and save that first image. Always. It's your ultimate safety net.
In fact, it may be your only safety net; if you don't have original installation media, it's the only way you're going to get Windows and most of your other preinstalled software back in case of a disaster.