What is the Control Panel?
The Control Panel is centralized configuration area in Windows.
What is the Control Panel Used For?
The Control Panel is used to make changes to nearly every aspect of Windows including keyboard and mouse function, passwords and users, network settings, power management, desktop backgrounds, sounds, hardware, program installation and removal, speech recognition, parental control, etc.
Think of Control Panel as the place to go in Windows if you want to change something about how it looks or works.
How To Access the Control Panel
Control Panel can be accessed in Windows 7 and Windows Vista by clicking Start and then Control Panel.
You may be able to access Control Panel in Windows XP in the same way or you may need to click on Start, then Settings, and finally Control Panel. This depends on how you have your Windows XP Start Menu configured.
How To Use the Control Panel
The Control Panel itself is really just a collection of individual Control Panel applets so to use the Control Panel really means to use an individual applet to change some part of how Windows works.
See my Complete List of Control Panel Applets for more information on the individual applets and what they are for.
If you're looking for a way to access the areas of Control Panel directly, see my List of Control Panel Commands in Windows for the commands that start each applet.
Here are a few of the thousands of individual changes that are possible from within Control Panel:
- Change Your Password
- Change Another User's Password
- Change AutoPlay Settings
- Create a Password for Your Account
- Adjust the Date and Time
- Remove Your Password
- Setup Windows Backup
- Start Device Manager
- Change Internet Explorer Settings
- Configure Regional and Language Settings
- Configure Text to Speech and Speech Recognition Settings
- Install Windows Updates
- Change Network Settings
- Adjust Color Quality
- Adjust Screen Resolution
- Change Your Monitor's Refresh Rate
- Adjust Keyboard and Mouse Settings
- See the Windows Service Pack You Have Installed
- Create a Password Reset Disk
- Change Background, Screensaver, and Windows Sounds Settings
- Show Hidden Files
- Add a Printer
- Configure the Start Menu and Taskbar
- Configure Windows Firewall Settings
- Hide Hidden Files
- Change Your Product Key
- Manage Windows Gadgets
- See if You're Running a 32-bit or 64-bit Version of Windows
- Change the Default Program for a File Extension
- Disable Error Reporting
- Reinstall a Program
Control Panel Views
The applets in Control Panel can be viewed in two major ways: by category or individually. All Control Panel applets are available either way but you may prefer one method of finding an applet over the other:
Windows 8 & 7: Control Panel applets can be viewed by Category which groups them together logically, or in the Large icons or Small icons view which lists them individually.
Windows Vista: The Control Panel Home view groups applets while the Classic View shows each applet individually.
Windows XP: Category View groups the applets and Classic View lists them as individual applets.
Generally, the category views tend to give a bit more explanation about what each applet does but sometimes makes it hard to get right to where you want to go. Most people prefer the classic or icon views of Control Panel as as they learn more about what the various applets do.
Control Panel Availability
Note: Even though Control Panel is available in almost every Windows operating system, some small differences do exist from one Windows version to the next.