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Windows 8's Refresh and Reset Functionality Detailed
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Old 5th January 2012, 07:42   #1
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Default Windows 8's Refresh and Reset Functionality Detailed

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.
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