Windows 8 users will be able to completely restore the operating system and all its apps in a few minutes using a new 'refresh' feature, Microsoft has revealed.
In the long history of Windows, the new design represents a radical new approach to a problem that has dogged the operating system since its inception.
The OS works fine but gradually deteriorates over time, or fails for some other reason leading to a hugely time-consuming and sometimes technically-challenging restore process that takes hours.
Windows 8's new 'refresh' feature will offer a way of re-installing the OS while keeping a user's personal files, settings, and installed Metro Windows 8 apps. In the online demo just posted by the development team, this process completes in minutes and avoids the need to back up any data to an external drive first.
Because the refresh destroys the installed conventional apps (i.e apps other than Metro apps), a separate "baseline recovery image" program can be run first in order that these are also restored.
A second possibility is 'reset', a means of taking the computer back to its factory state, complete with an option to overwrite all personal data. To save some time, or if no persoanl data resides on the machine, the drive can also be quick formatted.
Microsoft's demo claims that reset also takes minutes, returning the PC "to the way it was when powered on for the very first time."
"We asked ourselves: 'Wouldn't it be great if you could just push a button and everything is fixed?," said Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky in the Building Windows 8 blog. The OS would also launch a troubleshooting screen on computers PCs that refused to boot into the OS at all, he said.
Ironically, news of the feature has been released in the very week Microsoft announced it was suing UK tech retailer Comet for allegedly selling 94,000 '"counterfeit" Windows restore discs to licensed users of XP and Vista.
Had the new refresh and restore feature been i place for these operating systems, such discs would not have been necessary.