Microsoft's Windows 8 Will Offer Revamped Reset, Refresh Options

Microsoft is designing Windows 8 with an eye toward making resetting or refreshing the operating system a streamlined process.

Microsoft's Windows 8 team has kicked off 2012 with an official blog post describing yet another feature of the upcoming operating system: the streamlined ability to reset or refresh a PC experiencing issues.

Resetting a Windows 8 PC will, obviously, wipe out all the user's personal data while reinstalling the operating system; refreshing it, on the other hand, will preserve all that personal data, along with key settings and any "Metro"-style apps.

As with many things Windows 8, Microsoft is also emphasizing the security angle. "For those of you who worry about data that may still be recoverable after a standard reset, especially on PCs with sensitive personal data, we also will be providing an option in Windows 8 Beta to erase your data more thoroughly," Desmond Lee, a program manager on Windows 8's Fundamentals team, wrote in a Jan. 4 posting on the "Building Windows 8" blog, "with additional steps that can significantly limit the effectiveness of even sophisticated recovery attempts."

To activate that extra-thorough data scrubbing, users can choose a "Thorough" option from the reset menu, which will then write random patterns onto the PC hard drive's various sectors. In theory, this could appeal to business users who want to make sure their PCs are ultra-secure before disposal.

For those who opt for restoring their PC with data intact, apparently, there are some caveats. "We preserve only Metro style apps when customers refresh their PCs," Lee wrote, "and require desktop apps that do not come with the PC to be reinstalled manually." This prevents the reinstallation of "bad" apps, he added, including ones "causing the problems that lead to a need to perform this sort of maintenance."

However, Microsoft is also making it possible for users who extensively customize their PCs to establish their own baseline image via a command-line tool. "After you've created the custom image, whenever you refresh your PC, not only will be able to keep your personal data, settings, and Metro style apps," Lee wrote, "but you can restore all the desktop apps in your custom image as well."

Windows 8 beta will arrive in February, with the final release later this year. Unlike previous versions of the operating system with their desktop-style interface, the upcoming operating system's start screen centers on a set of colorful, touchable tiles linked to applications-the better to port it onto tablets and other touch-centric form-factors.

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