An incredible new feature Microsoft is giving us in Windows 8 is the ability for regular home users to easily refresh or reset their computers. Why is this a big deal? Well, I’ll tell you why. By allowing users to easily reinstall Windows 8 for a fresh start, they no longer have to depend on bringing their computers in for repairs whenever it is infected with malware or other configuration issues. By no longer having to deal with computer technicians whom they may or may not trust, they not only can put that trust issue aside but they also will be saving a whole bunch of money at the same time! Let’s be honest here. When you bring a computer that is infected with malware in to a computer repair shop, many times what will happen is that those technicians will not fix the actual problem (malware removal) but instead save all your important data (hopefully!) and completely nuke the PC to give you a new start. In fact, I wrote an article asking if your computer technician actually cheated you by doing this exact same thing and charging you an arm and a leg for it. With Windows 8, this no longer has to happen anymore.
The Windows 8 Refresh and Reset PC features are both completely separate things and have different outcomes. The most important part is that a user performing either of those features understand the consequences of actually performing either a Refresh or Reset. Because both deals with your computer and your personal data in different ways, the user must comprehend what is going on when either one of those features is invoked on their computer. At a high level, a Refresh will allow Microsoft to fully reinstall the Windows operating system while preserving your data. However, the same cannot be said for your installed applications. Therefore, you will need to reinstall all of your custom applications after the Refresh process. What Microsoft will help you preserve/reinstall after the Refresh process are all of your Windows Store apps (formerly called Metro style apps). These are the apps that you’ve downloaded from the Microsoft Store. A Reset is like a complete reformat in that everything on your computer, both data and applications, will be completely removed/deleted. The computer will reset itself back to factory defaults and the user can start afresh again like they were working on a brand new, store bought computer. Both a Refresh and Reset have their uses and it really depends on what it is you are trying to accomplish. Let’s go over each feature in a little more detail.
For many users, a Refresh will most likely be the feature used the most out of the two. By preserving your actual data such as your music, photos, important documents and so forth, a Refresh will breath new life to your malware-infected PC by reinstalling only the underlying Windows operating system. When a computer is infected with malware and the such, it’s usually the operating system and applications that gets hit the hardest. Things such as rogue antivirus software can cause havoc such as not allowing a user to open their own folders or preventing them from installing/running authentic antivirus software. By completely nuking the underlying operating system and installed applications, a Refresh is one of the simplest things a user can do to get their computer up and running again after a catastrophic failure in the underlying OS. The reason Microsoft chooses to delete all of your custom application as well is due to them not knowing whether or not those applications pose a risk and caused the system to malfunction in the first place. There are literally millions and millions of third-party software out there and Microsoft juts cannot keep track of each one. For example, if a rogue application legitimately installed itself, I really doubt you would want that application to remain after the Refresh process and cause havoc again! The good news is that after the Refresh process, Microsoft will dump a file on your Desktop listing all of the applications it found before the Refresh took place. You can then use this reference file to reinstall those applications you deem trustworthy.
You’re probably now wondering why is it that our custom applications gets uninstalled and yet Windows Store apps get a pass. Well it’s because any app you install from the Microsoft Store has been vetted by Microsoft themselves and are deem safe. At least that’s how it goes. Therefore, Microsoft is confident that apps you download from their online store can safely be reinstalled after the Refresh process as it is unlikely those apps were the culprit for your computer woes to begin with.
Resetting your Windows 8 machine is a much more drastic approach than Refresh. Basically, performing a Reset is like reformatting your computer. None of your data will be saved nor will any custom applications. Whereas the Refresh feature reinstalled your Windows Store apps, here in a Reset they will be wiped out as well. Think of a Reset as a chance to completely start over with your PC. Once the Reset procedure has completed though, you can proceed to reinstall back your applications and migrating the data you’ve backed up previously. Most users will most likely opt for the Refresh option because it can save them a whole lot of time. The Reset function is more used when users need to either sell their computer or donating it to another person/charity. Because everything will be wiped out, you can be confident that none of your data remains behind.
Performing a RefreshAt the time of this writing, Windows 8 hasn’t been released to the public yet and therefore, there are no computers loaded with Microsoft’s newest operating systems in retail stores. The only requirement when performing a Refresh is your DVD disc containing a copy of Windows 8. On a OEM computer purchased at the retail store, the computer most likely will have a hidden system recovery partition with the Windows 8 install files. My opinion is that if this is the case, the user will not need to provide a physical copy of the Windows 8 install disc as the Refresh procedure should be smart enough to recognize the hidden partition and load the files from there instead. With the Refresh feature, Microsoft also allows users to create their own install image to use when initiating a Refresh. For example, rather than having to manually reinstall Firefox or Chrome after every Refresh process, you can create a baseline Windows 8 image with pre-installed programs that you approve of. You would then tell Windows 8 to create an image of the computer and the OS would then register that image to use when you initiate a Refresh in the future. This saves a lot of time because once the Refresh process has completed, you no longer have to reinstall all of those applications that was preinstalled but only one’s that were left out of the baseline image.
Initiating the Refresh procedure is dead simple. Because all of your data will be left intact, you won’t have to scramble around looking for an external hard drive to back up your existing data. Remember, a Refresh is not the same as a Reset. The one task you should perform is taking note of all the applications you’ve installed on the computer. For this you can simply head over to the Programs and Features control panel applet. This is just a precautionary measure as after the Refresh procedure has completed, it will dump a file on your Desktop listing the applications it had removed. However, do note that you may be using some applications that doesn’t require a full-on installation, such as self-executables. These applications will not be listed in the file. Once you have this task completed, we can initiate the Refresh.
Here you can see that I’ve installed some apps from the Microsoft Store:
And here you can see some files on my Desktop along with a couple of installed programs:
To initiate a Refresh, I simply head over to the Start Screen and type in the word ‘Refresh’. Under Settings, you can’t miss it:
Next, you’ll be presented with a simple dialog box detailing what will happen once you initiate the Refresh process:
Once you hit Next, the process will begin. If everything goes correctly, hit the Refresh button and that’s it! It’s that easy!
Your computer will then begin what will seem like a reinstall procedure. However, it’s all hands off so you don’t have to really do anything. Go ahead and grab lunch or make a pot of coffee and let Windows 8 do its thing. The computer will restart a couple of times and once that process has completed, you should see the login prompt once again.
Once I’m logged back in, I will see that all of my Windows Store apps have been reinstalled. Trust me, it did. I just don’t want to take another screenshot of the same picture as the one above! The more interesting to note is what happens to my data. As you can see below, all of the installed applications I had earlier are now gone. However, you see that my data is still there. You should also see a new file has emerged called Removed Apps.
If I open that file, I should see a list of my previous installed applications:
When I browse this special folder, I should see that although my previous installed programs have been uninstalled, I can still recover all or specific data files those applications left behind before the Refresh. Depending on how some applications function, you can copy configuration files or databases over to the same folder location on your newly Refreshed PC, provided that you have reinstalled the actual application itself. Once you’ve used the newly Refreshed PC for about a week or so and confident that you do not need any of the old files, you can thensafely delete the Windows.old folder to regain the hard drive space. While you should be tempted to just delete the folder from within File Explorer, that is not the proper way to do it! Instead we need to use a special disk cleanup tool within Windows.
Disk Cleanup After Refresh Process
In the Start Screen, type in the word ‘free’. Within Settings, you should see the ‘Free disk space by deleting unnecessary files’ link.
The Disk Cleanup utility should then begin scanning your hard drive for specific files that can be safely deleted. However, what we need to do after the scan is to click on the ‘Clean up system files’ button because by default, the Windows.old folder does not appear on this list.
The utility will once again proceed to re-scan your hard drive. This time though, you will see in the listing the ‘Previous Windows Installation(s)’ option. To delete the folder, simply check the option box. If you scroll all the way down, you should also see the ‘Windows Upgrade Log Files’ option. These log files shouldn’t take a lot of space but they are generally worthless to a casual user anyways once the upgrade/refresh procedure has successfully completed. Therefore, you can delete these files if you want to as well. Finally, hit the OK button to commence the delete operation.
On the next page, I’ll go over how we perform a PC Reset instead of a Refresh.
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