Microsoft's Desmond Lee took to the Building Windows 8 blog today to detail the Reset and Refresh functionality which will allow users to restore Windows to a pristine state without install media or third-party recovery partitions, similar to functionality built-in to most smartphones, tablets, and other appliances. These recovery options can be accessed either through the Control Panel, through the pre-boot Windows Recovery Environment, or through a bootable USB drive created using a special tool, depending on your system's state of disrepair.

The Reset option allows you to completely wipe your programs and data off of the computer and start from a fresh Windows install. Microsoft gives users both "quick" and "thorough" options for resetting their PCs - the latter will wipe the drive more securely by writing random data to each sector, an option currently available only through third-party utilities.

Users can define the state to which their PC will be reset using the built-in recimg.exe command-line tool to capture custom-made images that include any installed applications and drivers, thus making the Reset functionality more useful than a clean install from a generic Windows setup disc. Recipients of OEM PCs loaded up with bloatware can also easily uninstall anything they don't want and create a new image, ensuring that the bloatware won't be present in the event that the Reset option is used.

Refreshing your PC is a less disruptive option that tries to preserve more of your programs, data, and settings, but there are caveats: the largest one is that only Metro apps will be preserved and reinstalled, while standard Windows apps will need to be reinstalled manually. This will be inconvenient for some, but it does make some sense - because Metro apps will be curated by Microsoft, a user can be more confident that a given Metro app won't contain the malware that has historically plagued Windows PCs. Metro apps are also installed using a consistent mechanism (the .appx format), while Windows desktop apps can be installed via Windows Installer, InstallShield, or any number of other backends. The list of Windows desktop apps is preserved in an HTML file is placed on the desktop for the user's convenience.

For now, to avoid preserving settings that could be causing a given user's problems in the first place, the system preserves wireless and cellular network connections, Bitlocker settings, drive letter assignments, and personalized themes, while throwing out file type associations, display settings, and firewall settings. This list is subject to change based on feedback collected during the developer preview and beta phases.

Lastly, Microsoft claims that on the Developer Preview PC given out to BUILD conference attendees, the refresh process takes 8 minutes and 22 seconds, the quick reset process takes 6 minutes and 12 seconds, and the thorough reset process takes 23 minutes and 52 seconds. That system only uses a 64GB SSD, however, so expect slightly longer times for computers with standard hard drives and/or more drive capacity, especially while doing a thorough reset.

Within these various restore options, one can see bits and pieces of Windows technology that has existed for years - the Windows Easy Transfer tool, the Windows Recovery Environment, the Windows Setup engine, and even the Sysprep tool. While the Refresh tool isn't without its drawbacks, it's nice to see these previously disparate tools coming together to make system restoration less of an ordeal.

Source: Building Windows 8 Blog

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  • iwodo - Wednesday, January 4, 2012 - link

    I wonder if the options does give you an EXACT bit to bit copy as a clean install Windows. The problem with current PCs or Laptop is that they come with all these Crapwares, and uninstall isn't helping because most Uninstall procedure isn't very clean on Windows.

    I would rather have the options to start over, and i backup up my drivers etc myself....
  • hechacker1 - Thursday, January 5, 2012 - link

    Last time Microsoft talked about it, the refresh state that you rollback to can be set to whichever point you want. So theoretically, you could do a fresh install of Windows, install all your drivers, essential software, and then create the refresh point.

    So that sounds great for power users who would to rollback quickly when something goes wrong or it needs a general refresh. But unfortunately, it also leaves the door open for OEMs to create a refresh point with their crapware preinstalled.
  • B3an - Thursday, January 5, 2012 - link

    You can create your own custom refresh / reset image in Win 8 and choose what software to keep or remove, so you should be able to remove any crapware that the PC came with when refreshing / resetting as this custom image wont use the OEM image that includes the crapware.
  • B3an - Thursday, January 5, 2012 - link

    BTW i think MS have done a very good job with this: It's easy, it's much faster, and it's customisable for advanced users. The amount of user data on the drive no longer effects times as well (either with refreshing / resetting or doing a Win 7 upgrade to Win 8).

    Even if you cant boot into Windows you can still refresh / reset from within the Recovering Environment, which now supports a real graphical interface as well as mouse and touch support. Also if the OS is truly screwed up and the RE wont even start then you can create a bootable USB flash drive now and boot from that instead.
  • mcnabney - Thursday, January 5, 2012 - link

    To me it looks like MS is back to their old monopolistic ways.

    MS apps get a special installer (that is sure to work without a hitch) while their competitors are stuck with what amounts to a compatibility-mode installer, increasing the liklihood of conflicts between the OS and application down the road.

    They claim 'security', but they really mean 'financial security'. I am sure OpenOffice will not get a .appx installer...
  • Alexvrb - Thursday, January 5, 2012 - link

    Are you high? Curated != created.

    In other words, if OpenOffice (or anyone else) wants to release a Metro-compatible version of their software on the app store, it will be using .appx also. Metro isn't just for Microsoft software.
  • danjw - Thursday, January 5, 2012 - link

    Not if they make the crapware look like a metro app. OEMs won't like this feature, they want that stuff on your computer, and so Microsoft had to give them a way to circumvent your ability to do what you are saying. Which is why I won't ever buy a Dell, HP, ... computer.
  • sprockkets - Thursday, January 5, 2012 - link

    This is nice but I mean, would be nice to at least give users the option during install to set the home folder on another drive.

    And to think they are raising hell over preventing computer shops from reinstalling Windows without a corresponding restore partition/legit disc + COA key? If this is also offered via the end user OEM install and eliminates a need to reactivate, I'll consider this good progress.

    Not sure why your data has to be removed - they could keep the Users folder and delete the hidden app data folder thus trashing the files generated with use.
  • sigmatau - Thursday, January 5, 2012 - link

    I have a few concerns.

    Where will this "copy" of Windows reside to restore your computer back to it's original state? I'm guessing there will be a separate folder or partition that has the original, un-updated copies of the Windows install. If this is true, Microsoft will have to defend that folder or partition from heavy mal-ware attacks as was once the case with the system restore targeting malware.

    Or what happens if your hard drive fails? Will you have to buy another copy of Windows when you buy a hard drive or what?

    Hopefully, with the USB drive option that was indicated in the article, we can at least get a computer to boot up to a generic OS that lets you download Windows again.

    I really like the drive erasure abilities.
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, January 5, 2012 - link

    Thing is, people like me get paid to do this manually for others. That is, on a selfish note.

    Having said that, I see this as a very good thing, with a few caveats not already mentioned.

    First, what if a user like myself, who prefers to separate data from the OS. That is: Personally, I keep at least two partitions on any personal system. Single drive or not Sure, I would think that MS would not force this feature of Windows 8 on me, or others. However, it would be nice to know if this feature if used, if it will try to "fix" other partitions separate from the OS. This in my own opinion is a very important question.

    Secondly, and related to the above. User home directories. Where a user relocates his/her home directory off of the OS partition. Pictures, video, and a lot of other important data could be stored here. The user needs to be assured that "the fix" wont too easily wipe out their memories, or other important data. While at the same time. Windows being aware enough to create a symbolic link back to where these directories were previously.

    Personally, the way this feature was described. I think that Microsoft should keep its hands off of the users data. Then, knowing from past experience how Microsoft tends to obfuscate what an application truly is doing . . . Well, let me just say that yours truly has completely wiped a drive, because the information presented from an application was not clear enough. Yes, this was an application ( not some special tool ). Visual web designer to be specific.

    Anyhow, I see this as a potential great feature. So long as Microsoft does it right.

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