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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  • hampuras - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    Will the desktop UI be color managed? Can we now use it properly on a wide gamut display? Reply
  • moto47 - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    I dont understand this constant love of Intel, and disrespect to AMD. Does Intel make better cpu's? Depends on what you consider "better". If by better, you mean it can perform faster on high-level programs that 98% of the worlds population will never use, yup its better. For the vast majority of people that use their computers to surf the internet, maybe use an office-type program, or something of that nature, no, AMD is just as good, especially when you factor in the MASSIVE price difference.

    This is an old analogy, but a good one. If the automobile industry was like the CPU industry: Intel is Ferrari, AMD is Honda...they both get you to work or the store, the Ferrari will get you there much faster, the Honda saved you enough money that you can actually do some shopping.

    Or maybe it could just be said like this: Intel is for the rich folks, AMD is for the rest of us.
    Reply
  • richough3 - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    I still miss the close button, but I guess grabbing the top of the application and dragging it to the bottom is okay enough for closing it. But some of the full programs running full screen look more primative. Here's a Windows 8 Start button you can use.

    http://www.stardock.com/products/start8/
    Reply
  • 86waterpumper - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    "This is an old analogy, but a good one. If the automobile industry was like the CPU industry: Intel is Ferrari, AMD is Honda..."

    No it's certainly not a good analogy. Why? If AMD was like Honda in the respect that it saved energy then it would be a winner in my book. However, not only are they slower than intel in alot of cases but they suck at efficiency.
    This will continue to hurt amd especially in the laptop arena until they can get a handle on it. A perfect example of this is the total and complete lack of smaller laptops using the Llano chip. I hope they do figure it out and get back in the game. I like having amd as a option, their older designs are probably still a good option for someone who is really funds limited.
    Reply
  • medi01 - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Typical Liano system eats 35-40 watts. (a bit more @ Anand tech, where they for some "misterious reason" use 1000W PSU with it).
    Try to beat that with anything Intel has to offer.
    Reply
  • myhipsi - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    There are many features like the new task manager, refresh and reset and storage spaces, faster boot times, and, of course, the under-the-hood changes that are great improvements/additions over Windows 7. However, with respect to desktop usage, I have one major problem with Windows 8, and it's a big one; the Metro UI.

    Based on feedback (and my own experience), it seems that the majority of desktop users dislike the Metro GUI, and my intuition tells me that in the future, most tablet/phone (touch based) users are really going to dislike being bounced from the Metro UI into the "desktop" style UI when performing certain tasks like changing settings, etc.

    Instead of compromising the product to a one size fits all "solution", I think Microsoft should really consider marketing two different versions of Windows 8: "Windows 8 Touch" and "Windows 8 Desktop", for example. Or, simply allow the user to choose which version they want upon installation.

    The idea that I will be forced into the Metro UI with Windows 8 is a deal breaker for me. Lets hope that MS gets enough negative feedback on this that they reconsider and allow people the choice.
    Reply
  • Silma - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    A uselful complement to this otherwise great preview would be to have feedback on professional use in a few different jobs:
    - power user office worker ( working mostly with Office Suite + sap/salesforce/whatever)
    - power user media / content producer (working mostly with Adobe Creative Suite)
    - power developer (working mostly with Visual Studio + sql )
    - probably using 1 or 2 monitors.
    and see in what ways Windows 8 is better or worse than Windows 7.
    Perhaps you could ask for your reader's input in those scenarii. Personally I won't have time to setup a fully working computer with all additional software so this would be of great interest to me.
    Reply
  • Burticus - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    MS better grow a clue... I don't want a tablet OS on my PC. There better be a way to permanently turn off all that stupid big icon crap and give me a regular desktop. If not... looks like I'll be on 7 until the next thing comes along. Hey I rode XP for 10 years and skipped Vista entirely.

    I installed it on a VM and played with it. So far, meh. If I had a tablet it might be more interesting.
    Reply
  • Geofram - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    I've got one real question about Metro that doesn't seem to ever get specifically addressed.

    How does it do at multi-tasking?

    The biggest problem I see with it, is that the full-screen everything approach is not a good one when you're running multiple applications. In fact, I don't even know how you could do that using it. I haven't tried it extensively, but if you're looking for things to review, that's my biggest question.

    I don't care about launching a single app. I care about how it will fare when I have a game running on one monitor, a web page on another, and music playing in the background. How do you switch between them easily in Metro? How do you start them and put them on the correct monitors? I don't see any discussion about that, and yet, it's the core issue to me.
    Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    All Metro apps run on one monitor, even if you have a multiple-monitor setup. Metro Snap provides the only multitasking available in Metro. App switching is handled similarly to Android and iOS, and is done via the app drawer on the left side of the screen. Switching the screen Metro appears on can be done in a few ways, and is covered in the review.

    Multitasking on the desktop is the same as it was in Windows 7. In a multi-monitor setup, the desktop will always be running on the second (or third, or whatever) monitor, and you can leave desktop applications running on it at the same time as you use Metro apps (thus allowing you to keep a web page open on your second monitor while you play a game either on the desktop and in Metro). Music can play in the background in both desktop and Metro apps. I think all of this was covered in the review, most of it on the first three pages.

    As with most things, what you think about how all of this works is largely dictated by what you think about Metro.
    Reply

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