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 today. 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.