Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Auto Reset and Re-install of Windows 8

One of the more interesting features in Windows 8, certainly from my perspective as the author of “Troubleshooting Windows 7 Inside Out” is the ability for Microsoft’s new operating system to self-repair and reinstall itself.  This isn’t actually as clever as it sounds but as a simplistic explanation it’ll do.
Microsoft have today though offered more insight into this process, called refresh and reset.  In a post on the Building Windows 8 blog they said “As we began planning for Windows 8, we asked ourselves: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you could just push a button and everything is fixed?’ We really wanted to focus on the concept of ‘push button’, which translated into a design goal that represents a simple to use, predictable, and fast solution.  The point of this is…
With Windows 8, there are a few key things that we set out to deliver:
  • Provide a consistent experience to get the software on any Windows 8 PC back to a good and predictable state.
  • Streamline the process so that getting a PC back to a good state with all the things customers care about can be done quickly instead of taking up the whole day.
  • Make sure that customers don’t lose their data in the process.
  • Provide a fully customizable approach for technical enthusiasts to do things their own way.
While this sounds like a wonderful solution to all your woes, it’s still not quite as wonderful as it sounds.  The two options will allow you to perform one of these tasks…
  • Reset your PC – Remove all personal data, apps, and settings from the PC, and reinstall Windows.
  • Refresh your PC – Keep all personal data, Metro style apps, and important settings from the PC, and reinstall Windows.
You’ll notice this says it will keep “Metro style apps” and doesn’t mention desktop apps.  This is because Microsoft will have a much tighter quality control on Metro apps and cite reasons in the blog including reinstalling bad apps and having little or no control over some installer types as the reason.  In fairness there probably are very good technical reasons why this is the case so there’s no need to disbelieve them here.
Windows 7 comes with an image backup system however in all editions that can be used with Startup Repair to restore your copy of Windows with all of your programs and settings intact.  Fortunately this hasn’t been forgotten and Microsoft have built it into the Rest options.
With this in mind, we’ve made it possible for you to establish your own baseline image via a command-line tool (recimg.exe). So when you get a Windows 8 PC, you will be able to do the following:
  1. Go through the Windows first-run experience to configure basic settings.
  2. Install your favorite desktop apps (or uninstall things you don’t want).
  3. Configure the machine exactly as you would like it.
  4. Use recimg.exe to capture and set your custom image of the system.
It’s not completely clear yet how this will work with the existing backup options, where a friendly wizard interface will walk you through the image backup process.  It is unlikely however that a command line will be the only way to do this.
So how long will it actually take to perform a refresh or a reset?  Microsoft timed the results on the machines they gave out to developers at their BUILD conference last september.
The refresh and restore options will also work from the new style Windows boot menu, should your copy of Windows be unable to start.
In Windows 8 Beta, there will also be a tool that you can use to create a bootable USB flash drive, in case even the copy of Windows RE on the hard drive won’t start. You’ll be able to start your PC with the USB drive, and fix problems by refreshing your PC or performing advanced troubleshooting. And if your PC comes with a hidden recovery partition, you’ll even have the option to remove it and reclaim disk space once you’ve created the USB drive.
It’s great that Microsoft are making these features more accessible and easier to use.  It is ironic however that the more stable and trouble-free Windows gets, the more troubleshooting and repair features are introduced.
Clearly these tools won’t suit everyone so I’m not concerned about whether there will be another edition of “Troubleshooting…”  I’ve also found on my own Windows tablet that the Developer Preview of the OS didn’t feel there was enough space to store all the rescue files and, as such when I went to try the tool it failed to work.  It might be that on some tablet devices where flash storage is at a premium, this may be the case in the future.