You might not be able to.
The short and unfortunate answer is that you might not be able to do what you are trying to do.
I’ll review how to prevent this in the future and throw out a couple of straws you can grasp.
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Recovering software installs
To avoid reinstallation issues, always save purchased software, discs, downloads, activation codes, and registration emails. If you lose them, try redownloading from or contacting the original vendor. You can carefully check secondary markets, but I recommend avoiding unofficial download sites and software “cracks” due to malware risks.
Start doing this NOW
Save what you buy.
If you buy discs, save them somewhere safe.
If your discs use activation codes, make sure to save those codes. I use a spreadsheet that is encrypted and backed up daily. You could also add activation codes as a note in your password vault.
If you’re purchasing downloaded software, save the download. Copy it somewhere and make sure it’s backed up as well. Many people assume the download will always be available. That’s often not the case.
The same is true for the email that contains things like your registration code and proof of purchase. This is information you need to save should you ever need to reinstall the software again, as you’re finding out.
The rule is simple: if you buy it, save it, and if you save it, back it up.
There are two basic situations at play here: recovering software that you’ve downloaded and recovering software for which you had physical disks. Let’s consider downloaded software first.
For some products you mentioned, it might be possible to go back to the vendor’s website and download the software again. There are, of course, potential complications.
If the vendor is out of business, you’re out of luck.
If your version is older, the vendor may only provide downloads of the most current version. One solution is, of course, to get that latest version. Unfortunately, it may cost money, and it may have changed enough that it’s no longer what you want.
If the vendor requires you to sign in to access your downloads, and you didn’t set up an account or don’t have the information, you’ll need to re-establish access to the account first. That could be as simple as a “forgot my password” process on a sign-in page, or as complicated as providing information from your original sales receipt, assuming you still have it.
If none of those options work, it’s always worth reaching out to the vendor’s customer support in case they have a way to get you what you need.
If those methods don’t work, many people search download sites, especially when it’s an older version they need. I’m not going to say not to do that, but I will say be very, very careful. Many download sites host downloads that either include malware or actually are malware instead of the download you’re looking for.
Recovering actual media
If you’re missing the discs or other media on which you originally got your software, things get more complicated.
It’s certainly worth checking the vendor’s website in case the software is now available as a download. Microsoft Windows 10 and 11 are good examples of software that we traditionally expected on DVD but now are downloaded.
You can also reach out to the vendor to see if they have some way of getting what you need.
Second-hand stores and secondary markets online are worth checking out, but of course, there’ll be a cost, and it’s not unheard of for these to be less than reputable.
Recovering activation codes
Once you’ve recovered the software, if you don’t have activation codes, you may not be able to use it.
If you’re in that situation, the only hope I have for you (aside from checking your records as completely as possible) is to reach out to the vendor in case they have a solution. Not all do, of course, but it’s worth asking.
One thing I suggest you not do is look for so-called “cracks” for the software. More often than not, those cracks include, or simply are, malware.
As a last straw, you might look into application-moving utilities. These allow you to move an application from your old computer to your new one. This assumes both devices are available at the same time. Depending on the application, it may be enough to have your old system available as a second hard drive on your new system or perhaps to restore it from a prior backup.
There are several such tools, though many have spotty records. In this case, it’s not necessarily about malicious or misleading software; it’s about whether or how well they work.
But if you’ve gotten this far, they may be better than nothing.
The bottom line is simple:
- Keep those discs
- Keep those downloads
- Keep those activation codes and registration keys
That way, you’ll never run into this issue. If you do, the process may be simple or impossible depending on the specific software involved.
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