Till the release of Windows 8, if you needed to format or update a computer’s OS, all the data on that drive would be lost forever. These included the operating system, installed programs, personal files and more.

In order to get the machine up and running, you would need to reinstall the Windows OS from scratch, along with all the programs and the data that were on the computer earlier. Which you had hopefully backed up prior to wiping the drive.

In the event of you not having your Windows installation CD with you, then you probably needed to repurchase the operating system (OS) for the reinstall. Or at the very least, use a backup CD, if you had made one and it was still around.

However, all this changed with Windows 8 and later.

Crucially, Microsoft now stores your purchase and installation history in your Microsoft account, which you must sign into when installing any modern Microsoft product. For instance, if you purchase Windows 10, or any MS Office program, then the activation keys needed for installation of those items would be stored in your account profile on the cloud. This is definitely much better than storing (and misplacing) the activation key by yourself as before.

In addition, Windows 8 and later versions of the OS now have a feature that allows one to “reset” the OS on your system without the need of a CD or downloaded file. This reverts the current version of the OS on the machine to the version of Windows that came installed at time of purchase.

Unlike a full wipe and reinstall of the hard disk that wipes your entire system clean, this lets you retain your personal files and any programs that came installed on the computer at the time of purchase. Obviously, other third-party programs (those installed by you afterwards on top of the original setup) need to be reinstalled, as also any customizations or personalizations made after the original installation.

One can resort to “reset” Windows in this manner when the system needs to be refreshed in one way or another. This is the most useful option if you find the OS behaving erratically or slowing down or is corrupted.

In contrast, “reinstalling” Windows also accomplishes the same purpose but in addition to the formatting process—after wiping everything off the hard drive, including the OS, programs and data files. This essentially returns your computer to the same state it was in when first put together. This option can be resorted to if “resetting” windows proves unsuccessful or does not achieve the desired result.

In both cases, after installation, you’ll need to log into your Microsoft account to re-register your Windows OS and/or the Microsoft-based programs once more.

For instructions on how to “reset” or “reinstall” Windows, you can find the details found on the Microsoft website. Be warned though: no matter the option you choose, it’s always best to backup your data just in the event you need to restore anything. With the emergence of cloud computing, this too has changed even more, for the better.

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