Microsoft Makes Windows 10 Recovery Options Slightly Less Confusing

Posted on June 16, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 11 Comments

As I’ve documented in the Windows 10 Field Guide, Microsoft offers far too many recovery options in Windows 10. But with Windows 10 version 2004, finally, the firm is taking a step in the right direction.

The tools I write about in the book include Reset this PC, Refresh Windows, Fresh start, the Windows Recovery Environment, Backup and Restore, and the Windows 10 Setup media. But those first three in particular—Reset this PC, Refresh Windows, Fresh start—offer overlapping functionality in confusing ways.

Here’s how they’ve worked to date:

Reset this PC lets you wipe out your PC and very quickly return it to its original factory condition, while optionally saving your documents and other data files as well as your installed Microsoft Store apps. Reset this PC can be customized by your PC maker so that it will include their bundled apps and utilities too. And the image it uses to reset Windows is updated to the late OS version each time you install a feature update.

Refresh Windows is a web-based tool that works much like Reset This PC, but it downloads the latest version of Windows 10. Also, because this tool comes directly from Microsoft, it will not include any PC maker-supplied bundled apps or customizations.

Fresh start (was) a streamlined version of Reset this PC that retains your documents and other personal files, some settings, and your installed Microsoft Store apps. (As with Reset this PC, you will still need to reinstall any desktop applications you use.) The difference is that Fresh start was located in the Windows Security application and not in Settings, like Reset this PC. For some reason.

With Windows 10 version 2004, users started noticing that the Windows Security app no longer included a link to Fresh start. (Odd that this didn’t come up during its 15-month beta period in the Windows Insider Program, but you know how that goes.) This led some to believe that Microsoft had killed the option.

As it turns out, Microsoft has instead done what it should have always done and consolidated this functionality into Reset this PC, which is the core Windows system recovery tool. Microsoft explains this change, if subtly, in a new support document.

“For Windows 10 version 2004 and after, Fresh start functionality has been moved to Reset this PC,” the document explains. “To reset your PC, [navigate] to Start  > Settings  > Update & Security   > Recovery  > Reset this PC > Get Started. Then select Keep my files, choose cloud or local, change your settings, and set Restore preinstalled apps? to No. If you don’t see the option to Restore preinstalled apps, it means your PC doesn’t have preinstalled apps configured and won’t restore apps from your PC manufacturer.”

That last bit is interesting because Fresh start would previously bypass any of your PC maker’s applications. I assume you’ll still get this nicety if you choose a cloud restore. But if not, Refresh Windows will provide the same functionality.

Confused? Buy the book! I’ll be updating it this week to accommodate this change.

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Comments (11)

11 responses to “Microsoft Makes Windows 10 Recovery Options Slightly Less Confusing”

  1. djross95

    Microsoft really should hire better copywriters. To a normal person (or, God forbid, a non-techy senior), that's about as clear as the Dead Sea Scrolls written in Klingon.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to djross95: Glad you thought to put non-techy in front of senior. It rankles me a little whenever I see seniors lumped into the luddite group by default. There are lots of non-techy juniors too. Maybe just non-techy users would be less 'offensive' ;)

  2. dftf

    Recovery options in Windows 10 are certainly confusing, yes.

    I still don't know if there is any benefit to using SFC /SCANNOW in Windows 10 or just doing DISM /ONLINE /CLEANUP-IMAGE /RESTOREHEALTH. Does SFC /SCANNOW do anything different the DISM command doesn't cover?

    Also, Windows 10 boots so quick pressing F5 and F8 after POST no-longer invokes the boot-menu; instead, assuming your PC can still boot to the login screen, you have to hold-down SHIFT and then choose Restart from the power button and it takes you to a Recovery Options screen. I'm not sure why they can't just put a text-link on the login screen saying "Recovery options..." to make it easier to get to.

    • kevin_costa

      In reply to dftf:

      I'm no expert, but in my understanding, the "DISM /ONLINE /CLEANUP-IMAGE /RESTOREHEALTH" command repairs any corruption in Windows 10 components located at the WinSxS folder, which is the folder where all system components and Windows Update backups are located, and it's the folder that provide fresh untouched files for the 'sfc /scannow' command, which repairs any important system file outside the WinSxS folder.

  3. dftf

    One other question, Paul (or anyone else reading!): if you do a secure-erase in Windows 10 by choosing "Remove files and clean the drive" during the Reset process, I'm guessing on a traditional hard-disk it writes zeroes all-over the disk (similar to using the /P switch of the FORMAT command, introduced in Vista).

    But if your device has an SSD, does it still write zeroes across the disk, or just tell the disk to erase the encryption key (i.e. tell the disk to perform it's own self-erase)?

  4. red77star

    Useless feature. I can do fresh clean install in less than 10 minutes.

    • Paul Thurrott

      LOL Jesus. Recovery tools are not useless, and not everyone is technical enough to do that.
      • 02nz

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        But this is the internet, where only "my" needs matter. Anything which doesn't revolve around that is by definition useless and worthless. /s/ In seriousness: even as a techie person I found the options confusing, so it's good they consolidated. Clean install is easy until it's not - missing drivers and whatnot. I can do it, but if a relative has a problem that I'm trying to help resolve over the phone, resetting is much easier.

  5. jonsimon

    I did a Windows refresh last weekend to install on an new NVME drive. While it was not v2004 it seemed more streamlined than my update last year.

    After the refresh I had the message that 2004 is coming but not yet ready for my PC.

  6. brettscoast

    Thanks Paul for the clarification there. This confusing mish mash should have been cleared up sooner. There are subtle differences in the recovery options that most users could never get their head around.

  7. illuminated

    This is great. I did resets couple of times and was re-reading text multiple times before selecting the option with shaky hands :) They did look kind of confusing. The new version is rather plain text as it is supposed to be. The old one was a bit like a small print on a credit card agreement.

  8. Winner

    Supposedly 2004 has some problems with new recovery bugs.