Windows 8 Refresh…A Real Life Experience.
Two great new features in Windows 8 are “Reset your System” and “Refresh your System”, when used in conjunction with the previously ( and still) available “System Restore” you now have the ability to recover from nearly any problem that might arise with your computer.
Today I will be discussing the effects of my first time using the Refresh you System option on a full time production system. I have run both Reset and Refresh in test environments, but I found those tests to be different from doing so on a system that had been in use for a matter of months with production files and applications in place.
First things first, there are very different reasons for using System Restore, System Refresh and System Reset. System Restore and System Refresh are both used to attempt to get a malfunctioning computer back to an operational state, while System Reset is used to wipe a computer of all data (reformat) and then reload the operating system (this is very useful when reallocating a machine from one user to another).
For today’s discussion, we will stay focused mainly on the System Refresh. It is important to note that System Refresh is far more invasive than doing a System Restore and for that reason alone I would highly recommend that you always run System Restore prior to doing a System Refresh. Where System Restore “rolls” your system back to a specific point in time allowing you to remove troublesome applications, updates or patches without affecting your personal files on the computer, System Refresh sets your Operating System back to the way it was at its original install while also not affecting your personal files. ‘But wait!’ you might think, ‘There were nothing installed on my computer at install except for Windows 8.’ and you would be correct. This is why you should use System Refresh as a last resort, because after you use it you will need to reinstall all of your previously installed Windows applications. I make the distinction regarding “Windows” applications due to the fact that in my experience LT (Live Tile) apps that I had installed were not effected by the System Refresh, all Email, Calendar, Weather, etc. apps functioned exactly as I had set them prior to the Refresh. Most user specific settings were still in place after running System Refresh also. All previous printers and network settings still worked after the Refresh with no changes needing to be made, including all Wireless settings and security information. While having to reinstall all of your applications which are no longer on your computer is a pain, there is a saving grace. One of the best parts of the System Refresh process is a file that is on your desktop after Windows 8 restarts upon completion of the System Refresh, this file opens in Internet Explorer so no application needs to be installed to read it, and it contains a complete list of all applications that were removed during the Refresh process. The list is extremely detailed and complete even including items like different versions of Dot Net and Silver Light which may have been installed as part of another applications installation. This list provides a straight forward way to return your system to its former state, if not easily then at least accurately.
The process itself was very simple to run and took 21 minutes to complete the refresh process and with a following restart at which point Windows 8 does go back through its original setup of 5 to 10 minutes (you are not prompted to setup your Microsoft account or to setup desktop color choices etc. since, as I mentioned earlier, these parts of your settings are not affected by the Refresh process.
Let’s step through how the Refresh process works.
- Bring up the Charm Bar
- Select Settings
- Select Change PC Settings
- Scroll down and Select General from the left-hand list
- To the right, scroll down to Refresh Your System
- Select the Refresh button
- You will be prompted to be sure you really wish to Refresh your system, agree that you do
- Once the Refresh starts you will be prompted for the original installation media for your system, provide the media
- Your installation media is verified and the Refresh commences
Be aware that there is a percentage counter that runs while the Refresh is taking place, this counter is not terribly accurate so do not stress. In my real world experience the counter went from 1% to 5% in about 5 seconds, at that point it remained at 5% for 7 minutes, after 7 minutes it then proceeded from 5% to 99% over the next 7 minutes, at this point the counter once again hung out for another 7 minutes at the 99% mark, at 21 minutes the Refresh completed
- Upon completion of the Refresh the system will restart
- After the restart you are prompted to login
- Windows 8 goes through a “mini” setup where you are told about swiping from the right etc.
- Systems restarts once again
- After the restart you login once more and your system is back to its original state
While this is certainly not a painless process it is definitely much easier and less painful than our options under Windows 7 when System Restore failed us. In Windows 7 is was necessary to install Windows again in parallel with your old installation, then after the installation was complete, one had to manually move all of their personal items from the “Windows.old” directories to the new Windows directories, sometimes for many different user profiles. this also carried no old settings forward to the new installation of Windows 7. In Windows 8, having all users files in place after the Refresh, as well as having Wireless networking settings including passwords for things like home networks, can be a huge time saver for an IT Pro supporting these systems.