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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  • TheThirdRace - Thursday, January 05, 2012 - link

    I agree and disagree with you.

    I agree that this is a good thing, it will solve a lot of problems for a lot of people.

    I disagree concerning the "data" part. The whole point is to get rid of anything that could have broken your installation. Thus the "home dir" of the user must be wiped out, it's the only way to acheive the goal. You cannot get rid of a virus by giving a free pass to some folders...

    Windows will only fix the partition on which it's installed, it's not gonna go on a rampage on your other partitions or disks. I don't know if it will reset the "home dir" if you changed the default path. As far as I'm concerned, it's asking for trouble to move that folder anyway. You will always find a "genius" programmer that will use the direct path instead of the global variable, you're just asking to be punched in the face when you least expect it. It's only my opinion, so take it with a grain of salt...
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  • yyrkoon - Thursday, January 05, 2012 - link

    Are you positive you want some idiot who can not figure out Windows path variables writing applications for your computer ?

    As for using this feature solely for removing viruses, I am not quite sure if this is the best way. To become infected, a user is very likely doing things that they probably should not be doing. E,g, Not updating their copy of Windows, running questionable code/web site apps on their computers, etc,

    Would it work ? Yes I think it would. Is it smart ? In my own opinion. No it is not smart. What is the point of having data if you can not keep it. Do you have a 10+ year old image of a relative whose since passed away ? A video of when your child took his/her very first steps ? Bah ! They're infected, just delete them. Right ? Not to mention other important data not based on personal memories. Business transactions, personal code base. What have you.

    For this purpose, what you propose fails. For fixing improperly installed drivers, bloated registries, or even just getting the ICON clutter off your desktop, etc. It would do perfectly fine I think.

    Of course, I would have to see this feature in action personally. Maybe it would surprise me. We'll see.

    That, is my opinion.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, January 05, 2012 - link

    The point of users becoming infected that I was trying to make was; The average user operates in a pattern that very often repeats. Once, infected, always infected, is very often the case.

    However somewhere between your point, and mine. A virus can be placed anywhere, and do nothing until it is executed. This means that unless it is run, it will do nothing. So returning to where Windows is "reset". Any data no matter where would be "safe". Until the user executes it. Much like how you can take an infected hard drive out of one computer, and scan it in another. Mount it with a USB boot copy, network scan, whatever.
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