Thursday morning I did something to my main laptop that I really should not have done, and the results were disastrous. I succeeded in completely wrecking my installation of Windows 8. I was able to boot into the OS, but as soon as I tried to launch any application my system went into an endless flash-loop, and was completely unusable.
I want to be clear that Windows 8 is a very solid and stable platform – it is built on the foundation of Windows 7 which most people agree was the most stable OS that Microsoft had ever released. Unfortunately when you tart to play under the hood (where the vast majority of users would never be) things can go wrong… and indeed that is what happened to my system.
Normally under these circumstances I would simply reformat the laptop, or at the very least re-install Windows on the existing partition (so as to not wipe my data). However because my system is protected with BitLocker I would have had to extract the BitLocker Recovery Key, which I have on file… somewhere.
Because my laptop has a Microsoft corporate image on it I could have gone to the IT Help Desk at the office and had them work it out with me… but it was Thursday, I wasn’t going to be in my office until Monday, and I had several presentations to do over the course of the week-end… not to mention blog articles, e-mail, and whatever else I might have had to do.
Since I was able to boot into Windows 8 I decided to try to Refresh my PC. This is a new feature of the OS that is found under Settings – Change PC Settings – General that refreshes my PC without affecting any files. Essentially it reinstalls the OS in place which restores anything that I would have messed up – and I know just how badly I messed it up. However it retains my data and settings for all users – including domain membership, files, desktop… everything.
Refresh is BitLocker-aware, and warned me before starting that it would temporarily disable my BitLocker protection and then re-enable it when the process was complete.
It took about 15 minutes. Refresh rebooted the PC a couple of times, fixed everything that was wrong, and when I booted back into Windows it prompted me to log on as b-mitchg – my alias in the Microsoft Active Directory. My password worked, and so did my PC. The desktop was exactly as I had left it – a little cluttered, although not as bad as it would have been on Windows 7.
Refresh restores all of your Windows 8 apps that were installed from the Windows Store; any applications that you installed ‘the legacy way’ will have to be re-installed. However that was a small price to pay considering that most of my apps (with the exception of Microsoft Office 2013) are all from the Store, so I didn’t have a lot of loss.
My settings were all correct, my documents were in their place, and my SkyDrive connection was intact. Everything was as it was before the refresh… except it all worked!
Of course there is a ‘one step further’ – Remove everything and re-install Windows. This will not preserve any of your files, settings, or even your account. Imagine you are selling your PC, giving it to your kids, or whatever. You don’t have to do anything but click through to the Settings – Change PC Settings – General tab and click the option to Remove Everything. You don’t have to go looking for your Windows media, it just takes care of everything for you.
Between these two options I can imagine that technicians will spend a lot less time trying to clean malware out of their PCs… the Refresh option is much quicker and just as effective.
I know it saved my bacon last week… it saved me from something far more dangerous than malware… it saved me from myself!