Starting with Windows XP, but especially in Windows Vista, I learned to appreciate the Windows Repair Console. This utility made itself available through the Windows install media, and could be elected after booting from the CD or DVD for one of those OSes through striking the R key to initiate a repair install (XP) or by choosing the System Recovery Options during the install process (Vista). These tools saved my hindquarters more than once after unfortunate boot option selections or registry edits led my PC astray, and even enabled me to load restore points or grab image backups to replace a completely busted installation with a working setup.
While I was working with the Windows 7 beta I must have been too chicken to deliberately bust my installations at the time, but since the RTM has become available–I started downloading last Thursday, and installing last Friday, and am still in the thick of updating production and test desktops, as well as notebooks and netbooks galore–I’ve already managed to mung at least two machines while playing and messing about with those systems.
To my surprise and delight, the Windows 7 on-disk image includes the Windows Preinstallation Environment (aka WinPE) and the system recovery options. When the system can read enough of the system disk to grab those files after encountering trouble, it will load this environment automatically and run it for you to help you repair your installation. Although it’s also still included on the install media (and will come in very handy when the system disk gets too badly trashed to find and/or run those files) its automatic invocation from the hard disk has proved to be both handy and helpful. Though I can lay hands on at least four flavors of Windows 7 install DVDs at the moment (so far I’ve burned them for both 32- and 64-bit versions of Professional and Ultimate), it’s even more convenient for the OS to notice that it isn’t starting up correctly or that key system files have been damaged, corrupted, or gone missing, and to invoke WinPE and the system recovery console on your behalf.
So far, I’ve used it to replace some damaged OS files and to recreate my MBR and Windows boot environment with great success. The WinPE environment starts up in less than 30 seconds on those machines where it’s been brought into play, and has been able to fix such problems as I’ve stumbled into so far in my continuing Windows 7 adventures. To me, it’s just one more thing to like about the Windows 7 environment.