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Windows 8 Beta Gets New Refresh and Reset PC Features, and Too to Create Bootable USB Flash Drive

In a January 4 blog post, Desmond Lee, program manager on the Fundamentals team and authored a post about “push-button reset” feature of Windows 8. In the post, Lee shared details about what to expect on the PC-reset front — including information on a few of the under-the-hood changes coming in the one-and-only Windows 8 beta, due out by late February 2012.

In this regard, Microsoft will be providing two related features:

Windows 8 Beta: Refresh, Reset PC Features

  • 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.

Lee writes, that Microsoft is set to deliver following features on Windows 8:

  • 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.

“In some cases, you might just want to remove everything and start from scratch manually. But in other cases, you’re removing your data from a PC because you’re about to recycle or decommission it.,” writes Leee. Adding, he said, for both of these situations, you can easily reset your Windows 8 PC like this:

  1. The PC boots into the Windows Recovery Environment (Windows RE).
  2. Windows RE erases and formats the hard drive partitions on which Windows and personal data reside.
  3. Windows RE installs a fresh copy of Windows.
  4. The PC restarts into the newly installed copy of Windows.

Windows 8 Beta Reset PC Features

The Windows 8 beta will be providing an option to “erase data” more thoroughly, with additional steps that can significantly limit the effectiveness of even sophisticated data recovery attempts. Instead of just formatting the drive, choosing the “Thorough” option will ensure that the data removed “will not” be “easily recoverable without the use of special equipment that is prohibitively expensive for most people.” Because, the new option “will write random patterns to every sector of the drive, overwriting any existing data visible to the operating system,” Lee.

Windows 8 Beta Erase Data Option

The Refresh option is less severe. When using it, there will be “no need to first back up your data to an external hard drive and restore them afterwards,” Lee blogged. With the Refresh option that will be part of the coming Beta, Microsoft plans to preserve settings including wireless network connections, mobile broadband connections, BitLocker and BitLocker To Go, drive letter assignments and personalization settings (like lock screen background and wallpaper). Settings that won’t be preserved include file type associations, display and Windows Firewall settings, Lee said.

Refreshing your PC goes like this:

  1. The PC boots into Windows RE.
  2. Windows RE scans the hard drive for your data, settings, and apps, and puts them aside (on the same drive).
  3. Windows RE installs a fresh copy of Windows.
  4. Windows RE restores the data, settings, and apps it has set aside into the newly installed copy of Windows.
  5. The PC restarts into the newly installed copy of Windows.

Windows 8 Beta Refresh PC Feature

Addingm, he said “We preserve only Metro style apps when customers refresh their PCs, and require desktop apps that do not come with the PC to be reinstalled manually. “You can, however, cleanly install and uninstall all Metro style apps using the .appx package format. If you’re interested in learning more about how Metro style apps work in this regard, check out the following sessions from //build.”

In Windows 8 Beta, there will also be a “tool to help you 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, Lee said.

Lee explains that in Windows 8 Beta it’s now possible to establish “own baseline image” via a command-line tool (recimg.exe) that will enable you 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.

Those who want to try it now, can do so, as a preview version of this tool is also included in the Windows 8 Developer Preview. Just type the following in a command prompt window running as administrator:

mkdir C:\RefreshImage
recimg -CreateImage C:\RefreshImage

“This creates the image under C:\RefreshImage and will register it to be used when you refresh your PC. Again, this is a very early version of the tool, so we know it’s not perfect yet. Rest assured that we’re working hard to get it ready for primetime,” notes Lee.

Lee’s post also includes a chart from Microsoft listing times for the recovery and reset of the Windows 8 Developer Preview machines that the company distributed to paying attendees of the Build conference and a video demostrating (both embedded below) these features:

Windows 8 Developer Preview Recovery operation Chart

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