If you have a restore/recovery disk and Master cd from your vendor for your type of computer and if you haven't changed any of the hardware since you bought it new, you should use those disk to do what you want...otherwise, follow the directions below (do the first couple of steps anyhow even if you do have the restore/recovery/Master disk setup).
FORMAT ONLY..FIRST RULE: BE PREPARED AHEAD OF TIME
Save to disk (floppy, zip drive, or cd if you have a cdrw) all files that you want to be able to restore later on. Email messages, address book, data you have personally created, zip downloads so you don't have to hunt for them again, mp3 files you may have downloaded, etc. Go through your C: drive folder by folder in Explorer to make sure you don't forget anything. Any programs you have installation disks don't worry about because you will have to reinstall them again anyhow. Make sure you have the correct info in Dial Up Networking for your ISP icon written down somewhere so you can get back on the net, too. AND IF YOU HAVE A WEBSITE, SAVE THAT ALSO. Other things to save that you might have can be found here: http://www.valink.com/jeep/harddrives.htm
Do you have a bootdisk that gives you access to the cdrom in order to reinstall if your version comes on CD? If not, then follow the directions below (follow them anyhow even if you have floppy disks for your W95 and Office program)
Use the boot disk for the operating system you want to put on the harddrive (if you need one that gives you cdrom support go to http://www.bootdisk.com or http://www.bootdisk.de and download one now and make sure you get the right version for the windows that you will be putting on the harddrive and then extract that file to a temporary folder on your harddrive somewhere, read the readme file to know how to create the disk, then put a floppy disk into the drive and follow the instructions from the readme file to get your disk made. If you downloaded the bootdisk and it's an .exe file, you can just click it and it will start to create the bootdisk for you automatically. Also, when you use the bootdisk you downloaded, it will default to being the R: drive for the cdrom, but this is only temporary until you reach the windows desktop. To check for your version windows, go to Control Panel\System and under your Registered Owner name, you will see some numbers. If the number is 4-00-950 with no letter or the letter "A" after it, you have W95A. If the number is 4-00-950 with a letter "B" or "C" after it, you have version W95B or W95C and will get the W95B bootdisk. If you have Win98 or WinME or Win2K or WinXP, this is an obvious choice for you from the site.
One last piece of advice regarding bootdisks before you format the drive.....go NOW to Add\Remove Programs\Startup Disk and create two more bootdisks (have your windows cd handy because it will ask for it). I've seen bootdisks go bad for no apparent reason when you least expect it, so make sure you have a couple of them handy just in case. Don't try to make a copy of the one you have using the A: drive copy command because the copy won't work at all since there are hidden and system files on it and they don't copy over....you have to make the new bootdisks from the Startup Disk tab. However, this will <B>NOT</B> work with W95 because the StartupDisk tab won't give you cdrom support so you will have to download a bootdisk for it instead.
Have your hardware installation disks handy for anything that windows doesn't have drivers for and can't install for you...so go into Device Manager and click the plus mark in front of your hardware to get the manufacturer and model numbers of what you have. Then go to http://drivers.on-line.net.nz/listing or http://driver.softlookup.com or http://www.winguides.com/drivers or http://www.amaxit.com/driverupdate.htm or http://www.pcdrivers.com/index.htm or http://www.drivershq.com/main.html and log in using 'drivers' as the username and 'all' as the password...look alphabetically for your manufacturers or your part/model numbers and then download the newest drivers for your hardware ahead of time. Burn these to cd or save to other media or harddrives also.
Have your older version windows installation disks handy if your Windows is an upgrade because you will need proof during the installation that you are eligible for the upgrade and have your product key code (ID) # handy so you can enter that information also during the installation.
If you have any version of Windows newer than W95, you will need the Product CODE key...windows 95 needs the Product ID number for the installation. This information can be found by going to RUN type REGEDIT, click the plus in front of the following:
HEKY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows and now click the words Current Version. Scroll on the right side and write down the information you need for your operating system version. This assumes you haven't already formatted the drive....if you have, then the Registry won't be available to you.
Boot up with your boot disk and enable cdrom support when W98 asks you...otherwise cdrom support will automatically appear if you used a boot disk that you downloaded or created yourself. Keep an eye on the screen to see which drive letter has been assigned because it won't be the same one you had in Windows before, and then change to that drive letter. Make sure you can access the cdrom with that disk by changing to the cdrom drive with a cd in the drive and type DIR at the cdrom prompt...if it shows you the list of files on the cd, you are good to go so change back to the A: prompt.
At the A: prompt, type FORMAT C: /S (NOTE: the /S switch doesn't work for WinME so leave it off) to get the boot drive ready to receive data. If you have already formatted the drive, then at the A: prompt type SYS C: instead.
Now if you have enabled the cdrom support, you can change to the cdrom drive ( so as it is loading, watch for which drive letter it has assigned), and put your Windows installation cd into the drive and type SETUP....the installation will begin.