Windows 8's best feature - PC refresh and reset

Windows 8's best feature - PC refresh and reset

Summary: These aren't features that you'll need that often, but when you do, having them built right into the OS will be a real timesaver.


Over on the Building Windows 8 blog Microsoft documents what I think is the best feature of Windows 8 - PC refresh and reset.

I found this shortly after Microsoft released the developer preview of Windows 8, but it seems like it's come along a lot since that preview.

The process for resetting a PC does the following:

  • The PC boots into the Windows Recovery Environment (Windows RE).
  • Windows RE erases and formats the hard drive partitions on which Windows and personal data reside (there's a 'quick' and a 'thorough' option here where the 'thorough' option overwrites user data with random data to prevent recovery).
  • Windows RE installs a fresh copy of Windows.
  • The PC restarts into the newly installed copy of Windows.

Refreshing a PC works as follows:

  • The PC boots into Windows RE.
  • Windows RE scans the hard drive for your data, settings, and apps (only Metro apps ... not other applications), and puts them aside (on the same drive).
  • Windows RE installs a fresh copy of Windows.
  • Windows RE restores the data, settings, and apps it has set aside into the newly installed copy of Windows.
  • The PC restarts into the newly installed copy of Windows.

In the Windows 8 beta, the following settings are preserved:

  • Wireless network connections
  • Mobile broadband connections
  • BitLocker and BitLocker To Go settings
  • Drive letter assignments
  • Personalization settings such as lock screen background and desktop wallpaper

The following are lost:

  • File type associations
  • Display settings
  • Windows Firewall settings

I've tested these features as present in the developer preview on a number of systems and found them to be very effective and it works well.

The refresh and reset mechanism is also built into boot-up troubleshooting mechanism.

I think that this is Windows 8's killer feature. Users might not need to refresh and reset their PCs that often, but when they do, having these features built right into the OS will be a real timesaver.


Topics: Software, Browser, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

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  • RE: Windows 8's best feature - PC refresh and reset

    I like the availability of the recovery disk on Windows 7. I can recover everything from an external backup. The refresh option in Windows 8 still requires that you reinstall programs other than Metro apps, if I understand correctly. The reset option means the user loses even more. Why would I prefer to refresh rather than recover all from a backup? BTW, great article!
    • RE: Windows 8's best feature - PC refresh and reset

      The refresh feature will be good for corporate environments. If there is a PC and the user has termed, you can refresh it and then give it to a new hire. The PC refresh is going to be used quite a bit for that purpose.
      Loverock Davidson-
      • Maybe for small business, but not corporate...

        Maybe for small business, but not corporate, as most corporate solutions involve DOD erasure and use imaging solutions.

        For home use, it's a nice feature. I've been spoiled by Time Machine.
      • RE: Windows 8's best feature - PC refresh and reset

        @Loverock Davidson-

        Or better yet, put in a Linux disk and format that Windows crap the hell away.
      • RE: Windows 8's best feature - PC refresh and reset

        @Claverhouse Do you notice that all of the best new features of Windows 8 are coming from Linux? :-) This is another one. One of my favorite things I couldn't stop raving about when I switched to Linux not too long ago was the idea of having separate "root" and "home" partitions. Home not only has users' data, but each users' settings (both OS and programs) as well. That means you can reinstall the OS and all of the programs (found in root and some other directories off of it) and leave the Home untouched and get a fresh install without touching users' data or settings. To clear the settings and really start from scratch, you'd just need to delete the hidden directories in the user(s)' home folder(s) first. between the registry and many programs keeping settings in their own directories, the user's directories, the registry, or anywhere else they seem to feel like, that wasn't really possible to do in Windows. With Linux, there wasn't much of a need to even back up the root partition if you didn't mind reinstalling if there was a problem. Some distros can export a list of all of the installed software, repositories, configuration settings, partitions, etc. so that new machines can be easily set up to match an existing configuration (I've used this to create virtual machine "clones" of real systems for testing purposes).
      • RE: Windows 8's best feature - PC refresh and reset

        I agree.

        For the last 11 years my standard practice has been to move everything possible off of the OS partition (i.e. "Programs" and "Users" folders).
        It's not 100% effective as certain software companies insist on automatically installing their code to the C drive.

        I don't know why MS refuses to include an easy way of doing this DURING the installation process.
        All "Write" operations (except for MS updates and Windows logs) could be banned from occurring on the OS partition.
      • RE: Windows 8's best feature - PC refresh and reset

        jgm@...<br><br>These days I mainly use Linux at home to be honest. I like Linux, but your comment is a tiny little bit misleading to say the least and I can't let it slide.

        For example a lot of Linux configuration data is stored in /etc, /var, /usr, /share(s), etc. etc. In most distros, you cannot simply reinstall Linux and find it exactly as you left it. In fact it is a great deal more complicated to configure/reconfigure than Windows ever was/is. In Windows, you have pretty much always been able to overlay installs and upgrades within reason and find things pretty much as you would expect.

        Seperate partitions for /root and /home are not a Linux feature, they are simply seperate partitions mounted as root folders. It is entirely possible to do this with the Windows Users/Documents and Settings folder, just as easily. Also it has to be said that the Windows file system is very logical and intuitive unlike Linux. Drive Letter->WINDOWS, Program Files, Users - it doesn't get any easier or more organised than that really, does it....?
    • RE: Windows 8's best feature - PC refresh and reset

      @palavering, in the article, there is also the option to refresh using a saved image. So you can save a full install of all your desktop applications as well.
    • RE: Windows 8's best feature - PC refresh and reset


      Very few home users have backups, especially bare metal backups. They might have data but that's about it. You're in the severe minority if you can do a bare metal restore on your system at home.
      • Which I guess Mac users qualify as the minority. [nt]

  • RE: Windows 8's best feature - PC refresh and reset

    That is one new feature of Windows-8 that will be useful to PC users. When will other features useful to PC users be announced for Windows-8? All the hyperbole and screen shots up to now has been for tablets.
  • RE: Windows 8's best feature - PC refresh and reset

    Windows 8 is turning out to be a great improvement over 7. The Metro UI will relegate the desktop paradigm to the heap of computing history.
    • RE: Windows 8's best feature - PC refresh and reset

      @jatbains OR... Metro UI will relegate Windows 8 to the heap wherein are found old Microsoft Bob disks. It remains to be seen, and even Ballmer has referred to Windows 8 as the riskiest thing they've done under his tenure. Linux tried to go the "your desktop is a tablet" route with Ubuntu's Unity and Gnome 3 and there was a major freak-out over both of them and Linux Mint rose to superstardom in the past few months for its attempts to put the desktop paradigm back into Gnome 3. Windows users are inarguably more resistant to change than Linux users (most major distros release new versions every 6-8 months and the kernel is being constantly updated, while many Windows users have had to be poked with a stick to leave Windows XP). There could very well be an even greater uproar over the changes to Windows 8 and Windows 7 could become the new XP while 8 becomes the new Vista.
  • Only one company can save Windows users from more years of...

    Fragmentation in the Windows ecosystem is getting ridiculous. Current corporate users are split between three major versions of fragmentation with little resemblance to each other. The oldest of these was launched over ten years ago, and still has nearly half of the installed base even though it can't even run the latest browser from the same company. Even within the same version there are major feature fragments such as "32bit" and "Professional" or "Home" with significant differences. In many cases they can't even run the same apps! Modern versions can't even run some apps designed for older versions.

    The platforms themselves are wildly fragmented, with thin client fragments, laptop fragments, a vestigal tablet fragment with literally hundreds of poor suffering fragmented users of devices like the HP Slate. And then there's the Workstation fragment, the Business PC fragment, the Laptop Workstation fragment. Even the fragments have fragments - it's like a sharded broken glass wasteland!

    Desperate fragmented Windows users can look to only one source for relief of this serious fragmentation issue: Microsoft. And what is Microsoft doing about the fragmentation of Windows? Making the fragmentation situation even worse with Intel/AMD and ARM architecture variants - some with app stores and some without, some running traditional software and some not, introducing tablet and phone form-factor fragments where there were none before? And where is the commitment to application compatibility, to the compatibility of devices accumulated over the years, the seamless meld of applications across different platforms? Nowhere to be found in this fragmentation desert.

    Something de-fragmenting must be done to halt this reckless fragmentation of the Windows platform. Fortunately, the above author is well-informed in advising global multinational corporations about the perils of software fragmentation and their consolidation due to his years of experience on the tech writer beat "Hardware 2.0". Doubtless he will shortly hold forth on how Microsoft can alleviate the Windows Fragmentation issue, and no doubt they will comply in short order, bowing to his wisdom and expertise as a software fragmentation subject matter expert.
    • RE: Windows 8's best feature - PC refresh and reset

      @symbolset We should all switch to Android to avoid the massive windows fragmentation
  • Not impressed... not convinced...

    As described, this not a killer feature, it is just another MS crap. It does not save me from the every 6-12 months routine of a) restore Windows partition from backup b) install all the updates c) backup d) reinstall all not portable programs.

    It would be a nice, but by far still not a killer, feature if Windows RE was updated while Windows updates were installed. In this case the above procedure will be simpler: a) refresh b) reinstall.

    A nearly killer feature would be if Windows stopped performance degradation on classic desktop programs installation, uninstallation, and continuous use.
    • Late to the party but...

      If you're still reinstalling 2x a year, you're doing it wrong.
  • The achilles heel

    Great feature. But wait a sec. The recovery information will be stored on the hard drive. Recovery will mostly be done in case of malware breakin. So....sophisticated malware....will simply infect the recovery data.

    Except malware writers probably won't bother, because not enough people use W8 to make it worth their while.
    Sasha Shepherd