For backing up the software that is a tough one..There is really now way around having to re-install them. If you paid for them out right just look up your documentation as vendors are usually cool with giving you new activation info so long as you can prove you bought it..with an order number, serial.etc etc..
You can TRY and backup the folder in the c:\program files folder and export the main registry keys for that piece of software which would be under the HIVE of HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE>SOFTWARE.
SOMETIMES that will work..its about 50/50.
I dont recall any of our Dells at work having the recovery partion that you speak of, but perhaps the home PC's are different. I know that our IBM laptops come with said recovery partion which contains the OS and all programs needed to resotre back to factory conditions. What partitions are there?