posted by Thom Holwerda on Fri 6th Jan 2012 10:06 UTC
IconAnd so the smartphonification of the general purpose computer continues. This time around, though, it might actually be for the better. Microsoft has detailed two new features in Windows 8: refreshing and resetting your computer. Reinstalls will be a thing of the past.

To this day, it remains the number one piece of advice for any computer operating system if you don't know how to fix a problem or if your computer has become slow: reinstall the operating system. Especially in the days of Windows XP, reinstallation was kind of a yearly ritual. Windows 7, Mac OS X and to a lesser degree Linux, also need the occasional reinstall to freshen everything up, but not as often as Windows XP did (just another reason why I never liked XP).

I'm pretty sure that, especially with the new Metro applications, Windows 8 will have far less issues with getting slower over time than even Windows 7 did. Still, as the nonsense concerning people advising users to close applications on iOS and Android shows, old habits die hard, and I'm pretty sure that reinstalling the operating system has become so entrenched among users (thanks, Microsoft), that Microsoft felt the need to provide users with a very easy way to do this.

And thus, refresh and reset. Refresh will "keep all personal data, Metro style apps, and important settings from the PC, and reinstall Windows". Reset takes the more rigorous approach and "remove[s] all personal data, apps, and settings from the PC, and reinstall[s] Windows". Both tasks can be performed through the Settings application within Windows, from Windows RE on the hard drive, or from Windows RE on the install disk.

Since especially the reset feature is also ment for PCs you're about to sell on or give away, the reset option will also include a checkbox to enable random writes to sectors to make sure none of your data can be recovered. It's only single-pass though, so it probably won't comply with regulatory compliance in case you're trying to get rid of sensitive government or company data - but it is a whole lot faster, and probably sufficient for normal people.

The refresh option is still an actual reinstall of Windows, but retains all your data and Metro applications. You don't even need a backup for this; Windows will remember all your stuff and applications by itself. Not all settings are preserved; some are purposefully set to factory state because they are a common source of problems. These include:

  • File type associations
  • Display settings
  • Windows Firewall settings

So, what about non-Metro applications? Well, Microsoft basically admits current desktop applications are a bit of a mess when it comes to installers, making it impossible to take these into account - they are removed during the refresh process.

"First, in many cases there is a single desktop app that is causing the problems that lead to a need to perform this sort of maintenance, but identifying this root cause is not usually possible. And second, we do not want to inadvertently reinstall 'bad' apps that were installed unintentionally or that hitched a ride on something good but left no trace of how they were installed," Microsoft details, "It is also important to understand that we cannot deterministically replace desktop apps, as there are many installer technologies as well as custom setup and configuration logic, of which Windows has little direct knowledge."

Still, Microsoft provides a tool to make an image of your preferred Windows 8 setup - including legacy applications - and then use that image for the refresh procedure. In other words, you cans set up your PC just the way you like it, including legacy applications, image it, and tell refresh to use this instead of the factory method. This makes me very happy.

Not that I'll be switching to Windows 8, but at least there's some features in there that I like. All Microsoft has to do now is make Metro usable for more than just Twitter and weather applications. Sigh.

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