Windows 8 will provide a refresh option that can automatically restore your PC to a clean state without erasing all your data and customized settings.
Due to appear in the Windows 8 beta that will debut next month, the refresh option makes good on Microsoft's earlier promise that it would give users an easy way to restore Windows in the event of a problem.
As described in yesterday's Building Windows 8 blog by Desmond Lee, a program manager on Microsoft Fundamentals team, the new OS will actually offer two ways to bring Windows back to factory condition:
The refresh option will keep all personal data, important settings, and Metro style apps, and then reinstall Windows.
The reset option will securely remove all data, settings, and applications, and then reinstall Windows.
Refreshing Windows would typically be the first option to try if the OS isn't behaving properly. And it's one that Microsoft promises will be completely automated, meaning there's no need to back up your files or settings beforehand.
To accomplish this, your PC boots up into Windows RE (Recovery Environment), saves your data and settings, installs a fresh copy of Windows 8, restores your data and other content, and then restarts into the fresh new OS. Most key settings are preserved with the exception of file type associations, display settings, and Windows Firewall settings.
Of course, there is one another gotcha. The refresh option will preserve your Metro apps, but not your standard desktop apps. According to Lee, Microsoft nixed the idea of restoring desktop applications for a few reasons.
A single desktop app could be the cause of the initial problem. Certain desktop apps leave no trace of how they were installed, making it difficult to restore them. And unlike Metro apps, Windows has no direct knowledge of the many different installer technologies often used by third-party applications.
As a workaround, Microsoft will offer a manual way to create an image of your existing Windows environment, desktop apps included. But this is something you'd have to run on a regular basis to ensure that all newly installed desktop applications are part of the image.
Finally, the reset option is the one to use if you want to start fresh and don't need to keep your applications, settings, or other data.
In this scenario, your PC boots into Windows RE, erases and reformats the hard drive, installs a fresh copy of Windows 8, and then restarts. Since all your data is securely wiped, says Microsoft, this is the right option if you plan to pass your PC along to someone else.
CNET will certainly give both the refresh and reset options a spin once the Windows 8 beta launches to see whether the new features live up to their promise.