Tech tips: Reset Windows to default settings
July 21, 2014
I’d like to be able to reset my computer to its default settings, and have it work just like it did when I first got it. Is there an easy way to do this without reinstalling Windows from scratch?
Both of us reinstall Windows regularly (Ken does it more often—he seems to like that “new computer” smell), mostly to clean up the “gunk” that piles up as you use Windows for a while. Successfully wiping a drive, reinstalling Windows, and restoring all your settings and information isn’t easy, however—you should leave that task to a professional. With versions of Windows before Windows 8, however, that was your only option, and it can take some time to back things up, confirm that the backup works, reformat your drive, reinstall Windows, reinstall all your applications, reinstall all your settings, and copy over all your documents. And that assumes that you’re fastidious about how you store your documents, keeping them all in one central location.
Windows 8, however, provides a very nice mechanism for restoring your system to its original state. It gives you the option of restoring to the computer to its original state, as if you have never used it; or the option to keep all your Windows store applications, documents, and settings, and simply restore Windows to its default state. (There’s no magic to retain the Windows desktop applications that you have installed—you will need to reinstall those manually from their downloads or DVDs/CDs.) Recently, Ken needed to sell a Windows 8 computer, and the option to completely wipe the drive and reset everything to its default state was incredibly useful. But that doesn’t sound like what you need—instead, you want to preserve all your content, and just reset Windows back to its default state.
To take this action, first back up your computer. Confirm that the backup works by comparing the contents to your computer’s contents (all backup software should have an option to do this). Then, press Windows+I (that’s the Windows key, in the lower-left corner of the keyboard), and click Change PC Settings. Click Update and Recovery, and finally, click the option to refresh without affecting your files. Sit back for a while, and let Windows 8 do its work. When you’re done, you should have a clean Windows installation with your content intact—all your documents and settings will still be there, along with any Windows Store apps you had installed. You’ll need to reinstall any Windows desktop applications that you had installed before resetting. (Please, we beg of you: Do not attempt this action without first ensuring that you have a working backup. You will regret it, if you do not. Sure, the reset procedure should work: But what if it doesn’t?) For more information, check out this clear write up: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/restore-refresh-reset-pc.
Outlook Express on Windows 7 or Windows 8
It’s finally time to upgrade my computer from Windows XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8. I’ve been using Outlook Express for years, and I have a ton of email stored in that application. Will I be able to use Outlook Express, and access all my saved email, once I upgrade?
There is a very simple answer to this question: no. Outlook Express simply will not run on Windows 7 or Windows 8. That’s the end of the story. Nothing you can do will make it work. As far as upgrading, we strongly suggest just “biting the bullet” and upgrading to Windows 8.1 Upgrade (the latest version). Although Windows 8 had its share of issues, Windows 8.1 Upgrade is stable, and we think it’s a great operating system, if you’re a Windows user. It may still be missing some important features (OK, we’d like to see a built-in Start menu) but besides its very shallow learning curve for existing Windows users, it’s a simple, stable, robust operating system.
Back to email, however: Because you cannot run Outlook Express, you’ll need an alternative. One simple alternative is to migrate your email and contacts to Outlook.com, Microsoft’s free online email client. You can read more about the process here: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/outlook-express#tabs=windows-8. If you require a computer-based email client (so that you can read your email when offline), check out Microsoft Live Mail, part of the Windows Essentials pack (http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-live/essentials-other#essentials=overviewother). It doesn’t work exactly the same as Outlook Express, but it’s close, and it’s the simplest free replacement available for the Windows 7 or Windows 8 desktop.
You can also take advantage of the Windows 8 Modern UI mail client, on the Windows 8 Start screen. This application is geared for a touch environment, and it works quite well with fingers or with a mouse. If you’re up for some experimentation, you can also try out a new email client for the Modern UI, TouchMail (available from the Windows Store).
Finally, if you would prefer to use the Windows desktop, you can try out Windows-based email clients as well. Mozilla Thunderbird is popular (https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/thunderbird/), as is PostBox (http://www.postbox-inc.com/). These applications have the added benefit of being available on both Windows, and on Mac OS X. If you’re willing to put some money into it, you can also use the excellent Outlook 2013 client application, part of the Office 365 suite (office.microsoft.com).
Doug Behl and Ken Getz spent years answering technical questions in private, and are minimizing the questions by pre-emptively publishing the answers.