Geeks often immediately reinstall Windows on their new PCs to get a completely clean system. Thanks to a change in Windows 10, you can get a fresh copy of Windows on any PC without downloading an ISO file and reinstalling Windows.
Microsoft is changing the way Refresh and Reset works in Windows 10. Computer manufacturers won’t be able to pollute the recovery image with their own software and modifications. Manufacturer-provided software is stored separately.
PC Manufacturers Polluted Windows 8’s Recovery Images
Windows 8’s refresh and reset feature was a nice improvement over the recovery partitions necessary with previous versions of Windows. However, these functions didn’t give you a completely fresh Windows system unless you installed Windows yourself — or purchased a clean computer from a MIcrosoft Store.
Computer manufacturers had the ability to set a custom “recovery image.” PC manufacturers used this to make an image of the Windows system with their drivers installed — and all the other junk software they added to their PCs was installed in the recovery image, too. If you have a Lenovo laptop that shipped with Superfish, using the built-in Windows refresh or reset feature will likely bring Superfish back. Superfish and all the other junk is part of that recovery image.
There’s a good reason for this — it allows manufacturers to build their drivers and other important utilities into the base system so they come back whenever a user refreshes their PC. However, it means there’s no way to get a clean Windows system without downloading Windows 8 or 8.1 from Microsoft, burning the ISO file or creating a USB installer, and installing Windows from scratch.
Windows 10’s New Recovery System
This news was revealed in a Microsoft blog post titled “How Windows 10 achieves its compact footprint.” Windows 10 has a new recovery system that works in an entirely different way. Most people focused on the storage improvements and missed the implications for manufacturer-installed junkware.
While Windows 8 used a recovery image that manufacturers could customize, Windows 10 uses a more intelligent system that rebuilds Windows in-place without the need for a separate recovery image. The system is cleaned up and the latest files are kept — this means you also won’t have to install Windows Updates after refreshing or resetting your PC. Here’s how Microsoft explained it:
“We are also redesigning Windows’ Refresh and Reset functionalities to no longer use a separate recovery image (often preinstalled by manufacturers today) in order to bring Windows devices back to a pristine state.”
Manufacturers Can Still Add Pre-installed Software, But…
Rather than restoring Windows to a previous point in time using the refresh image, the refresh and reset functionalities will “bring Windows devices back to a pristine state” by restoring them to a known-good state with only built-in Windows software installed.
PC manufacturers will still be able to customize the computer’s state after the refresh or reset — for example, adding their own hardware drivers and any other software they want, including junkware like Superfish. For the average computer user doing a typical refresh or reset, the experience will likely be similar to today.
However, Windows will restore the system to a known-good state before installing the manufacturer-provided software and configuration changes. These changes will be stored separately in a different package. You’ll be able to delete this manufacturer-provided package of software and changes from a Windows 10 PC and then run a refresh or reset. This will restore your computer to a fresh state with only Microsoft’s own Windows software installed and no manufacturer-provided junkware installed.
Just Delete a File and Refresh or Reset
Today, getting a fresh image requires performing a full reinstall of Windows. This means downloading a Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 ISO file from Microsoft, putting it on installation media, and installing it from scratch.
On Windows 10, you’ll just need to remove a manufacturer-provided package of changes and refresh or reset your PC to get a fresh Windows system.
This doesn’t actually solve the “crapware” problem for everyone. Less knowledgeable users will likely still end up with PCs filled with bloatware after performing a normal refresh or reset. But geeks will at least be able to get a fresh system much more quickly. And average users will be able to find these instructions, make a quick change, and refresh their PCs to get a fresh system — it’s easier than a full reinstall.
We don’t have all the final details — Windows 10 isn’t even finished yet! But the change to the way the refresh and reset image works is a big step in the right direction from Microsoft. If only Windows asked whether you wanted to install the manufacturer-provided software — and which bits of that software — when you refreshed or reset it.