Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
It appears that Windows 7 can be legitimately downloaded from authorized sites. If you have a legal product key, this could be your replacement media.
I've lost my Windows 7 installation disk, but I possess the product key. What should I do if I want to reinstall Windows on my computer?
Take a full system image backup as soon as possible and use that as a fallback. You can always restore to that image in lieu of a reinstall and you'll be back to where you were at the time that the backup was taken.
You should also get in touch with the vendor who sold you the computer - if they provided you with a copy once, perhaps they'll be willing to get you a replacement copy.
You could, I suppose, go buy a new copy. Most people aren't interested in doing that because they're stuck paying for something that they feel they already have.
That's when most people resort to downloading a copy. If you do it right, it might even be legal.
Let me explain...
It's been my understanding for years that downloading a copy of Windows from ... well, from just about anywhere, was illegal. Even if you had a copy of a product key to activate it, simply downloading a copy of the software breaks copyright law.
I believe that's still true for Windows XP and presumably Vista.
I'd been hearing rumblings that Microsoft actually made Windows 7 available as an online download. In doing some research into this, I found what appear to be at least two legitimate sources from reputable providers.
For the life of me, however, I cannot find anything from Microsoft itself to corroborate that this is indeed sanctioned. Given that the providers are well known and the fact that Microsoft hasn't taken action to stop it makes me think that it's at least tolerated.
So, while I can't make any statements pro or con as to the legality (I could well be wrong either way), I will say this: in my opinion, this is at least ethical if (and only if) you already have a valid, purchased, product key.
So I must cover my assets and include this bottom-line caveat: if you elect to take this download from anywhere other than Microsoft itself, you assume all risk and potential liability relating to its legality.
At this writing, you can download Windows 7 here.
That's from Softpedia, a large and well-known freeware, shareware, and trialware download site. Because Windows 7 is not free, and it's certainly not shareware, this qualifies as a "trial". Without a product key, you can use it for something like 30 days before Windows cripples itself.
You can also download here.
That's a blog entry at "mydigitallife.info" that includes direct links to the various Windows 7 .iso files hosted at Digital River. Digital River is a well-known and trusted service provider for companies large and small selling software.
Make sure to select the correct edition - Home Premium, Pro, Ultimate or Enterprise - and processor type - 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit(labeled x64).
Of course, Windows 7 is available from many other places, including assorted file sharing sites and peer-to-peer networks. Those are clearly not sanctioned and often include additional "bonuses" in the form of assorted malware. Regardless of where you get it, make absolutely certain that you're getting it from a trusted source. Right now, I think Softpedia qualifies.
It's big, really big. You're looking at something around a three-gigabyte download for most of the Windows 7 editions. Depending on your internet speed, that could be anywhere from an hour to several days worth of download.
It's an ISO file. For best results, you'll want to then burn that ISO file to a DVD, which in turn should behave pretty much like an original installation DVD.
It's not OEM. This would be the generic, retail version of Windows 7. If your machine came with a copy customized by the manufacturer (OEM), then those customizations will not be present and your product key may not work. Product key issues aside, this typically means that after installing from this copy, you'll need to get any missing applications and drivers from the computer manufacturer directly.
Again, make sure that you have the correct edition of Windows 7 to match the one for which your product key was originally issued.
It's possible that your product key was assigned to an OEM version, and so, it may not work with the retail version download. There's no legal way around this that I'm aware of, other than to return to your computer manufacturer and ask for a replacement Windows disc.
You can, of course, download Windows 7 without having a product key at all.
But it's not free.
You can purchase Windows 7 as a direct download from Microsoft.
All legit and legal and malware free.