Compaq often puts install info on hard drive.

Question: I recently bought a Compaq laptop computer from a reputable store and now I am wondering if I am legally entitled to the Windows 95 OS disks and any other disks of preinstalled software? A few years ago when I purchased my desktop computer, I received the OS disks with the computer. – C.B.

Answer: Microsoft often licenses computer makers, often referred to as OEMs or Original Equipment Manufacturers, so they can install Windows products on new computers. This is good for Microsoft because it guarantees their operating system gets on a lot of machines. It’s also good for computers makers, as they get to distribute the software at deep discounts.

It’s not always good for consumers, since they don’t necessarily get an off-the-shelf boxed product that includes installation CDs and manuals. Arguably, buyers usually do get bundled software as a bonus making the computer purchase cheaper.

As part of the deal, OEMs often must provide the customer with telephone support for Windows for some period of time after the sale. This is quite common among name-brand computer makers.

The OEM deals sometimes exclude the actual Windows installation disks, which may instead come on a CD-ROM that has multiple programs burned in. It is installed with a custom install program. It may also come pre-installed on the hard drive, with the CD-ROM contents also on the C: drive in a folder that may be named something like WIN98 or WIN95 or maybe WIN95FLAT.

“Compaq informed me that the customer may not receive specific Windows OS disks,” a Microsoft Canada spokesman told me. “Depending on the computer and type, Compaq sometimes puts the install information directly on the hard drive.”

Compaq provides CDs called Quick Restore. This allows you to reinstall Windows and other necessary Compaq software components.

Your best bet is to call Compaq directly and ask them yourself. Compaq customer support can be reached here.