Refresh and Reset

One of Windows 8’s most appealing new features for enterprises is something Microsoft calls “refresh and reset.” It adds the ability to automatically roll a busted Windows install back to a pristine state. The “refresh” functionality rolls back changes to system files and installed desktop applications (unless you create your own recovery image; more on that in a minute) but preserves user data, and the “reset” functionality reverts Windows to its freshly-installed state. This is analogous to the appliance-like “reset” or “restore factory defaults” functions present in many smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, and other electronics capable of storing customized settings and user data.

Refresh and reset, accessible from the “General” section of the Metro settings and from the WinRE recovery menu, both use the same image-based technology used by Windows Setup to do their thing. Since Vista, Windows install media has included (1) a collection of files required to enabled booting from the media and (2) a large, monolithic .WIM image file that is uncompressed and copied to the hard drive during install—this contrasts with the setup process for Windows XP and earlier versions, which expanded and copied individual files from the install media to the hard drive. Microsoft also offers a number of tools (many included in the Windows ADK) to let end users and IT admins create their own, customized .WIM images, which can be used to deploy a custom Windows installation to many computers quickly.

So, to continue the Windows Setup analogy, “refreshing” the PC acts as an upgrade install, replacing the operating system while preserving user data. Metro-style apps will also be preserved, but installed desktop apps will be removed and a list of them will be placed on your desktop in HTML format for reference—Microsoft’s reasoning for this behavior is that malicious desktop apps are more likely to be the cause of serious problems than are Metro apps from the Windows Store’s “walled garden”.

“Resetting” the PC acts as a clean install that blows away all user data, especially useful if a PC is being repurposed or sold or otherwise transferred from one party to another. The reset option also gives you the option of erasing the hard drive securely so that sensitive data won’t be at risk.

Recimg: Creating Custom Recovery Images

There’s one more major component to the refresh feature, and it’s probably the most interesting one—using the Recimg command-line tool, users can create snapshots of their systems to use as the reference point for a refresh. These snapshots, which are really just the same .WIM images used by Windows Setup, will store settings, drivers, and both Metro and desktop applications, and can be created at any time and stored basically anywhere, including the Windows partition.

These recovery images can even be used to replace factory restore partitions—suppose that you buy a cheap Windows 8 PC, as many people will do, and it comes with the requisite sea of crapware and no recovery DVDs or USB sticks. Thanks to Recimg, you can uninstall that crapware, update drivers, install programs you actually want, capture an updated crapware-free image, and then delete the old recovery image/partition from your hard drive to save the space. Relatives who have broken their PCs can then use the recovery image to revert their PCs to an unbroken state without losing their personal data.

Sounds useful, right? Let’s talk a bit more about how to use recimg.

First, you’ll need to run the Command Prompt as an administrator—otherwise, Recimg won’t run. From here, you can launch recimg with one of five different switches:

  • Recimg /createimage <directory> will create a new install.WIM image containing your installed drivers and programs to a directory you specify. The easiest way to do this is to store it on a local hard drive, but an external drive will also work as long as the external drive is plugged in when you initiate the refresh). The size of the .WIM file will vary based on what you’ve got installed, but images usually start at 3 or 4 GB and work their way up from there.
  • Recimg /setcurrent <directory> will set the install.WIM image in the specified directory as the one Windows will use when refreshing your PC. If you run Recimg /createimage but don’t use /setcurrent afterward, Windows won’t know to use your image.
  • Recimg /deregister will deregister the currently set recovery image. If a previously-created recovery image exists, Windows will revert to using it. If no image exists, Windows will ask for you to insert install media when you try to refresh the PC.
  • Recimg /showcurrent tells you where your current recovery image is stored.
  • Recimg /? tells you all of the stuff I just told you.

The primary downside of Recimg is that it can’t be used to reset a PC, only to refresh. My test PCs always asked me to insert Windows install media to use the reset functionality—OEM PCs that ship with Windows 8 may behave differently, but we’ll have to wait and see.

That aside, Recimg and the refresh/reset functionality do a solid job of making OS reinstallation a bit simpler—Windows Setup isn’t very hard now but it, combined with the challenge of reinstalling apps and drivers, has made reinstalling a fresh copy of Windows more of a pain than it needs to be.

Storage Spaces

Windows 8's new Storage Spaces functionality allows users to pool different physical drives together into one large logical drive, not unlike the now-discontinued Windows Home Server Drive Extender. You can pool drives connected by just about any common interface, including USB, SATA, and SAS.

Once you've created a storage pool using two or more drives, you can then set up one or more "spaces" that will be seen by the operating system as a logical drive which can be formatted, partitioned, and used just as a physical disk would be. To provide redundancy, you can either apply the "mirrored" attribute to your pool, which makes sure that a copy of every file in the pool is stored on at least two different physical drives, or the "parity" attribute, which uses some drive space to store redundancy information—in the event of drive failure, this information is used to rebuild your pool and enforce mirroring. Microsoft notes that while the two redundancy options are similar, the "parity" attribute is best used for large sequential files or less-frequently-accessed content, since it has a higher random I/O overhead. As with any redundancy technology, you'll give up maximum drive capacity in exchange for data integrity, so weigh your priorities carefully when you create your pool.

When creating a new Storage Space, you can specify a maximum size larger than the amount of available physical space—the system will prompt you when the storage pool needs more drives to work with. Microsoft calls this "thin provisioning," which means that drive capacity is only reserved as you store data to the drive rather than all at once. You can also expand the maximum size of the Storage Space at a later point if necessary. Creation of these spaces can be scripted using PowerShell.

My experience with Storage Spaces was a bit spotty—it didn't seem to want to recognize some of the USB sticks I plugged into my computer, and it wasn't clear why. It may be that there are some unspoken speed or hardware requirements that a couple of my drives just weren't meeting. Once I did get it working, though, it worked as designed—as you can see in the screenshot above, I unplugged one of the drives from the pool I had configured to simulate what would happen in the event of drive failure, and the redundancy features ensured that I was still able to access all files I had copied to the pool. One could then reconnect the drive or add a new one to the pool to restore redundancy.

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  • Sabresiberian - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    I downloaded and installed Win 8 CP last night (on a second partition, for dual boot). I must say, my fears about how hideous Win 8 would be are gone. There are no changes that are insurmountable, or even really difficult to understand, though it takes a bit of getting used to at first - as anything new does.

    As far as looks - I was surprised to find the big squares on a solid background weren't as hideous as I thought they would be, but it hardly matters because you can pretty much live in the desktop environment, in which you can install whatever background you like, just as has always been the case with Windows. There are things you will want to do that will bring Metro up, but it was no problem for me once I monkeyed around a bit and found out what to do.

    There is a nice guide on MaximumPC for creating and installing Win 8 either dual boot or using Virtualization, if you are interested. Note: if you are installing on a RAID, you can't resize your partitions and create a new one from Vista (not sure about Win 7), you will need to use a third party app. I'll get back with the one I used, which worked nicely.

    MaximumPC has several other excellent articles about Win 8, and I recommend reading them. One article had a method for starting Win 8 in the desktop mode, not Metro, so it has less impact on your sense of beauty. (I haven't tried it.)

    Do yourself a huge favor and approach Win 8 with an open mind, and the knowledge that you WILL have to do some things differently - but it really will make sense in the end. Don't insist that things should work the old way, that just leads to frustration and deciding Win 8 is broken somehow; it is not.

    There are a couple of things I don't like, such as not being able to make the rectangles smaller (2 sizes only). It's a minor quibble though since I will hardly ever have Metro up. There's no changing the Metro background beyond some solid color changes with different textural artwork, but the shades chosen by Microsoft for background colors actually displayed nicely on my screen. I wasn't fond of some of the tile colors and didn't see a way to change them in my poking around, yet anyway. (I actually like the tile that you click - or touch, if you have the hardware - to bring up the desktop, which looks like a miniature version of the desktop complete with whatever cool background you have installed.) As I said though, the desktop can be prettied up just as Win 7 could, and that's what I'll have up when I'm doing something that isn't fullscreen (such as posting in this thread).

    Remember, too, that what we see in the Preview isn't set in stone and final; with enough constructive input, Microsoft could well change some things before release. I want to underline the "constructive" part of that, no one listens to flaming.

    Give it a shot yourself! If you have any room on your hard drive, it's not hard at all to set up dual boot.

    ;)
    Reply
  • jabber - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    Oh no doubt those of us that dont like will persevere because our jobs/careers depend on being able to support it going forward.

    However, I still feel that using Metro should be a choice.

    All it needs is an option for those that want to use Metro or have a touch enabled desktop PC (yes thats you Jeff in Florida, nice to see you) to enable it and those of us that just dont have the time, inclination or need to do real work to earn a living to carry on as we were.

    It's not like 8 is a total ground up clean sheet OS. Its just Windows 7 with this dog show assault course called Metro shoehorned into it.

    If it was all new then I'd be more inclined to embrace it as it wasn't going to be able to change.

    I'll change if I really have to due to real compelling reasons or benefits, that's life but not because some bum-fluffed faced developer at MS that's main daily IT work is typing tweets tells me to, simply on the justification that "it's cool"..
    Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    The program I used to resize the existing partition (because I have 2 hard drives set up in a RAID 0 configuration and Vista's "Shrink" will only work properly with a single disk. It appears to work at first, but does not.) and create one for Win 8 is called "Partition Wizard 7" Very nice, and the Home Edition is completely free. Nice little video tutorials on the site if you need help.

    I've never done dual boot before, so I thought I'd add a note for others new to the system. Once Win 8 was installed, my computer didn't give me an option to start on the different logical drives like I thought it would when I pressed "F8" (may be "F12" or something else on your hardware); it booted normally, I saw the Win 8 stylized fish, and then a screen popped up to allow me to select which OS I wanted to boot. Selecting "Vista" instead got me a restart into Vista.

    Your computer might do something different, my mainboard is an Asus Rampage II Extreme, with Vista 64 Ultimate and now the Win 8 CP installed.

    ;)
    Reply
  • klmccaughey - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    Well I have had it installed for a few days now, and as a power user, multimonitor, DESKTOP user, I find it is all but unusable.

    The reason for having multiple monitors and desktops is to make use of that space.... SPATIALLY and not have all this crap getting in the way. It takes ages to find things you need to use, it is ANTI-productivity and a total DISASTER for business and power users.

    It's basically a very smooth running piece of shit (POS).

    Surely they could create a business version where we can continue to have a desktop and easy ways to jump from one activity to another.

    As it is you have a tablet interface that gets RIGHT IN THE WAY of trying to do what you want.

    How much money were Anand given not to give it a bad review is what I am wondering. You cannot seriously tell me people in business, programmers etc are going to be able to use this POS?
    Reply
  • B3an - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    Just STFU and go back to Windows 95 then.

    And oh no you have to learn new things with a new OS? Who would have thought!! Thats just shocking.

    It takes about an hour at most to learn the new stuff, then maybe a week to get used to it. After that... you dont have to learn it again! And you'll find that most things are actually FASTER to do if you use the new OS the way it's intended.
    Reply
  • jabber - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    Yeah you've never worked for a company with 10000+ staff have you? Ranging from Brandi in HR to Steve in Accounts etc.

    Corporations dont have that amount of time and productivity to lose to an OS designed to run fart apps and Angry Birds.

    It's a grown up world out there. It's not just about catering to skinny jeaned hipsters who only use Twitter and Facebook while sitting in Starbucks.

    Business as usual rules.
    Reply
  • noname3 - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    Nobody has problems learning new things; the only person with learning difficulties seems to be you, based on your language.

    Learning new OSes is something some of us do for a living, but to do so we need to be rewarded with increased productivity. Metro UI kills productivity and it sucks, you want to learn something useful, go learn foresting or something.
    Reply
  • klmccaughey - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    At a guess I would say I am able to learn substantially more than you would be able to. It is not a matter of learning something new, it is a matter of the interface, as is, getting in the way of productivity.

    I can see how it would be great on a tablet, but for me working it is a nightmare. Judging by the reaction worldwide it seems that other professionals are seeing the same iceberg.

    I like the spanglies, and I am delighted for MS that they have caught up in this respect. But someone has dropped the design ball when it comes to productivity and any vision of workflow for the average person.

    Hopefully there will be a bit of a rethink on the interface so that I can continue to program in Windows (tm) using "Windows", with easy access using mouse and screens. I want to upgrade, and I have spent hours enjoying Windows 8 on my tablet, but it isn't even close to usable for my day job. That is a real shame in my opinion.
    Reply
  • Valahano - Friday, March 16, 2012 - link

    Judging from your other posts on this article, I take it that you are some kind of a big Metro zealot. It's very hip, congratulations.

    However, this does not change the fact that this new interface is a major step back in usability on a desktop for anything beyond viewing lolcat pictures.

    But don't worry, Win 8 is really great OS in at least one aspect - the Up button is back (Ctrl + Up still doesn't work though).
    Reply
  • BehindEnemyLines - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    I think it's still the same Windows with all the desktop. In a multimonitor environment, you can have all your screens to be the desktop. The Start Screen is nothing more than a fullscreen start menu, and I actually find it more useful. The primary monitor will always be the screen with the Start Screen, so you can just click on the Desktop tile and use the desktop as it has always been. You can also access all of the power user resources by right-clicking on the bottom-left corner hot spot.

    And for a multimonitor setup, I suggest that you offset your left & right monitors slightly away from the bottom-left and top-right corners. That solved most of my problems.

    I understand that businesses don't want to retrain employees, which is why all businesses should have an upgrade cycle and plan. Most businesses are NOT going to touch a new operating system at initial release. There's a ton of testing before deployment.

    I had initially the same reaction with Windows 7 superbar. I thought MS was insane to remove the names from the taskbar and replace with just icons. And yet, I was amazed how much BETTER it's once I've learned it. I am just saying most things in life require some learning.
    Reply

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