More on Windows 8's new refresh and reset options

Microsoft is readying some under-the-hood changes for reset/restoring Windows 8 PCs, some of which will be part of the February 2012 beta.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

It feels like eons ago, but back in June 2010, when the first massive batch of information about Windows 8 leaked, one of the most anticipated new features was the promised "push-button reset" capability.

On January 4, on the Building Windows 8 blog, Microsoft officials shared more details about what to expect on the PC-reset front -- including information on a few of the under-the-hood changes coming in the one-and-only Windows 8 beta, due out by late February 2012.

Microsoft will be providing two related features, as post author Desmond Lee, Program Manager on the Fundamentals team, outlined:

  • Reset your PC: Meaning, "remove all personal data, apps, and settings from the PC, and reinstall Windows"
  • Refresh your PC: i.e., "keep all personal data, Metro style apps, and important settings from the PC, and reinstall Windows"

(Why Metro apps and not Desktop apps? Lee listed several reasons, including possibly inadvertently reinstalling bad apps, too many installer techs about which Windows has little direct knowledge and more. See the whole post if you want the list.)

The post includes the Reset PC screen below, which Lee noted "reflect changes that we’re making for (Windows 8) Beta, some of which are not yet available in Developer Preview):

The Windows 8 beta will include a new “Thorough” option to help insure that personal data that a user removes is difficult to recover. The new option "will write random patterns to every sector of the drive, overwriting any existing data visible to the operating system," Lee said, so that it will be tougher for those without "special equipment that is prohibitively expensive for most people" to recover it.

The Refresh option is less severe. When using it, there will be "no need to first back up your data to an external hard drive and restore them afterwards," Lee blogged. With the Refresh option that will be part of the coming Beta, Microsoft plans to preserve settings including wireless network connections, mobile broadband connections, BitLocker and BitLocker To Go, drive letter assignments and personalization settings (like lock screen background and wallpaper). Settings that won't be preserved include file type associations, display and Windows Firewall settings, Lee said.

Also coming in the Windows 8 beta, according to Lee, is a new tool that can be used to create a bootable USB flash drive, which can be used in cases when the copy of Windows RE on the hard drive won't start.

The post includes a chart from Microsoft listing times for the recovery and reset of the Windows 8 Developer Preview machines that the company distributed to paying attendees of the Build conference:

Lee said it would take 24 minutes 29 seconds for restoring the same contents from a system image backup.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything much, Microsoft shares at next week's Consumer Electronics Show about Windows 8. Contestants in the "First Apps" contest who make it into the second round will get to see Windows 8 beta or near-beta code in mid-January.

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