A clean install is a reinstallation of your operating system “from scratch”. Under most circumstances, this is a last resort when the operating system is so badly damaged, corrupted, or otherwise uncooperative, that other options won’t work.
Some other reasons to do a clean install are:
When transferring a computer from one owner to another. This is to delete any personal data and make the computer “new again”. This is a great option for parents who want to “hand-me-down” their computers to kids.
When buying a new computer. It’s a stretch, but some new computers are so bogged down with crapware from the manufacturer that customers just want a clean copy of Windows without popups from HP and Dell appearing every 5 minutes. (It’s usually simple enough to disable or remove these programs individually, but some people just feel better with a clean install)
When moving a computer to another user in an office. Many employees like to make the computer “their own” and add every toolbar known to man, icon and sound tweaks, weatherbug, ding!, and a hundred other background apps. Sometimes it’s easier and faster to do a clean install then to manually remove lots of programs.
The biggest causes for concern when doing a clean install are personal data and programs. After the installation is complete, you’ll have a pristine copy of Windows with NO PROGRAMS, and NO DATA in the user’s My Documents, Desktop, and other personal folders.
Moving data from one installation of Windows to another is pretty straightforward. When we do a clean install, we will generally backup the Documents and Settings folder in its entirety, storing it on one of our temporary file shares, and then restoring everything to the clean install.
The original inspiration for this blog entry was to emphasize that a clean install means you will lose ALL of your programs. If all you use is Firefox, AIM, and BitTorrent, then your reinstallations are just a download away. However, that expensive Microsoft Office Suite, Quickbooks, Games, and anything else that is not a part of Windows will NOT be there waiting for you after a clean install. You will need the installation media and license keys that came with these applications, and you will need to run each installer separately.
We like to remind people that however their computer is running, it’s just a period between clean installs (like a warm period between ice ages). You should always have installation media and get yourself int he mindset that you might have to rebuild your system tomorrow.