Microsoft Windows 8: Simpler Reset, Refresh, Storage Functions

Microsoft will offer new reset and refresh capabilities in Windows 8 that will let users take their PCs back to an earlier state if they get into trouble. In addition, new storage virtualization technology will improve how Windows 8 manages large volumes of data.

Microsoft described the features in postings this week on the Building Windows 8 site, a blog Microsoft launched last year in an effort to better communicate with customers and partners as it develops the new edition of its flagship product. Microsoft executives have acknowledged that such communications were lacking during development of earlier Windows releases.

"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?' " wrote Desmond Lee, a program manager on the Windows 8 Fundamentals team, describing the reset and refresh functions.

"We've built two new features in Windows 8 that can help you get your PCs back to a 'good state' when they are not working their best, or back to the 'factory state' when you're about to give them to someone else or decommission them." Lee described the new capabilities as similar to the reset button on the back of wireless routers and the software-reset option found on many smartphones.

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The reset capability removes all personal data, applications and settings from a PC. Hitting the reset button activates the Windows Recovery Environment, which erases and formats the hard drive partitions where Windows and personal data reside and then installs a new copy of Windows.

Lee said the reset function is "clearly a very heavyweight solution" that customers will use only as a "last resort" to correct a problem.

The refresh function, while still fundamentally a Windows reinstall, will preserve all data, settings and "Metro-style" applications -- Metro-style is a new user interface Microsoft developed for Windows 8 -- intact, according to Lee. The refresh function works without the need to first back up data to an external hard drive.

The refresh capability will activate the Windows Recovery Environment, which scans the hard drive for data, settings and applications and sets them aside on the hard drive. Windows Recovery Environment then installs a new copy of Windows and restores the apps, settings and data to the new copy of the OS. Lee said Windows 8 does this without the need to manually go through Windows welcome screens and reconfigure user accounts and settings.

The refresh function will preserve settings for wireless network connections, mobile broadband connections, BitLocker and BitLocker To Go settings, drive letter assignments, and personalized settings such as lock screen background and desktop wallpaper, according to the blog. But it will not restore settings that Lee said can "occasionally cause problems if misconfigured," including file type associations, display settings and Windows Firewall settings.

One caution: Refresh will only preserve applications written for the Windows 8 Metro-style user interface. Desktop applications that do not come with the PC will have to be reinstalled manually.

Some of the reset and refresh technology is being built into the beta release of Windows 8 that's due in February and was not included in the Developer Preview version that Microsoft began offering in September, according to the blog.

Meanwhile, the new storage feature -- called Storage Spaces -- organizes physical disks into storage pools that can easily be expanded by adding more disks connected through USB, Serial ATA or Serial Attached SCSI drives, said Rajeev Nagar, a group program manager on the Windows 8 storage and file system team, in another blog posting.

Storage Spaces also uses virtual disks, which behave like physical disks but provide additional capabilities such as thin provisioning, and are more resilient against failures of underlying physical media, according to Nagar.