Windows 8 Refresh: A great feature, if you know the limitations

Windows 8 Refresh lets you restore your Windows 8 PC to earlier state without destroying data, but beware hidden gotchas

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To run a Refresh using the install.wim file as a baseline only takes a few taps:

  • On the Charms bar (swipe from the right), choose Settings, then More PC Settings. On the left, tap General.
  • Scroll down to "Refresh your PC without affecting your files" and tap Get Started. Click Next, and wait.

Most systems I've tried ask to insert your installation media, but that's basically all there is to it. Refreshing takes 10 to 20 minutes.

What's wrong with that? For Windows, it certainly rates as a technological tour de force.

The problem is that Windows can't restore all of the user settings. The Windows 8 Blog says, in particular, that the Refresh routines don't restore File type associations, Display settings, or Windows Firewall settings. And for good reason: What if the user manually reassigned executable files to be opened with Windows Paint? (Hey, don't laugh -- I actually saw that happen.) What if they set the screen resolution at 1,024 by 600, and Windows 8 won't start because the screen's too small?

Then the question becomes: What gets left behind? I've played with it a bit, and as far as I can tell at least some drivers (outside of the baseline) don't make it. I put a data file in a weird place (the root of the C: drive) and it survived the Refresh. I lost the registration to some of my non-Microsoft programs, but when I reconnected they validated without a problem.

The answers aren't straightforward. If Microsoft removes all file extension associations, what happens to HTML files? Is Internet Explorer invariably turned into the default browser? Will iTunes (forgive me) no longer play MP3 or AAC files? Microsoft says it retains wireless connections, and in my case it did, but didn't keep the indication as to whether the connection is private or public.

In the Windows 8 blog, Lee says that Microsoft is continuing to evaluate what will survive a Refresh and what will be cast aside. I imagine there are lots of little conflicts that will turn into big missing pieces.

You admins out there, don't count this chicken before it hatches. There are lots of little devils in the details.

This story, "Windows 8 Refresh: A great feature, if you know the limitations," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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