A better Windows 8 system refresh with Slimware's RecImg Manager

I know why you're excited ... you can't wait for Microsoft to release Windows 8 this fall.

You're just thrilled by the forthcoming challenge of trying to educate your users about all the fun differences in the new OS and the prospect of whiling away those long autumn evenings learning a whole new way of doing things and finding new fixes to old problems dressed up in new clothes. It's beyond exciting, isn't it?

The prospect of having to push Windows 8 with yet another new, improved Microsoft user interface, Metro, to however many users you might have has to be one of the big joys of IT.

I know, let's do a survey! Go here and let me know what you think of Metro ... we'll wait for you ...

OK, so in an effort to take the fun out of wrestling with Windows 8, Slimware Utilities, the makers of fine tools such as SlimCleaner, have announced RecImg Manager, which it claims to be the only "intelligent" system imaging tool.

The idea behind RecImg Manager is that, should you need to restore a Windows 8 system to a previous state because of malware or some other intractable problem, instead of spending upwards of 24 hours grinding through a reinstall of everything including the virtual kitchen sink, the entire recovery process will be performed (after the initial image creation) without losing any user data or installed software and it will be done in under three minutes!

The reason for the high speed is that the RecImg Manager restore image only includes the OS and settings so it's much faster to recover your system than with a normal restore image which includes the aforementioned virtual kitchen sink.

But "hold hard!" you might be saying, "doesn't Windows 8 have something called 'Refresh' ... or is it 'Reset'? ... that does much the same thing?"

Windows 8, in common with every version of Windows since XP, has the ability to create Restore Points that take you back to a freshly installed system (in the PC Settings Panel, it is now called "Reset Your PC" just to confuse the unwary). Should you reset your Windows 8 PC you will be going back to square one, as if you had never used your PC. Ever. It is unlikely, in most cases, that this will be what you want.

The PC Settings Panel also has a "Refresh" function that restores your PC system settings to default and removes all of the applications installed from third-party sources ... the latter being what creates a huge sucking time sink.

Windows 8 does also have a command line utility called RecImg which lets you create a custom Windows 8 "Refresh Point" in Windows Installer Image format. Using this WIM file, you can restore your PC to a specific previous state which can include personalized Windows settings, desktop applications with saved preferences and so on. Very nice.

The only problem with Microsoft's RecImg is it is a typical command line utility with all the friendliness of a cornered rat. While your average power user might be quite happy with such manliness, your average just-trying-to-get-my-work-done user who has to wrap up the monthly sales report is going to be less than impressed if something like malware can't be fixed PDQ.

This highlights something I just don't understand: Why have all versions of Windows had this "techie" feel when it comes to anything to do with system maintenance? Just look at the Windows Control Panel, or whatever it's called in whatever version of Windows might be in front of you ... the various functions are organized in a way that can only be described as eccentric. Even people who are way beyond n00b level have trouble finding things like the control panel application to manage system services if they haven't had to do so for a while.

Be that as it may, we now come back to Slimware's RecImg Manager, which makes up for Microsoft apparently having bigger fish to fry than making system maintenance easy.

Via a Metro interface, RecImg Manager allows you to make backup images both manually and on a schedule (there's even support for allowing backups to be automatically created when on battery power, which is important for portable devices).

RecImg Manager can work on any Intel-based device running Windows 8 and, due to its smaller recovery image size, can support tablets including Microsoft's Surface tablet due out later this year.

Given that Windows 8 is only available as a prerelease version it would be hasty to give a final Gearhead rating, but provisionally, RecImg Manager gets a 5 out of 5 for an elegant, effective solution to a common problem, while Microsoft gets a -1,000,000 for not producing something better than a command line tool to do much the same thing with a lot more effort.

And now the really cool part: RecImg Manager is free!

Gibbs is sort of excited in Ventura, Calif. Transmit your joy to gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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