NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2010
The Control Panel Extremely Useful
By Sandy Berger, CompuKISS
sandy(at)compukiss.com (click to email author)

Just as you can use a car without manipulating anything under the hood, you can also use a computer without changing any settings. However, at a certain point you will want to correct a setting, uninstall a program, change the way your mouse works, or add another user to your computer. All of these functions and many more are found in the Windows Control Panel. Don't worry though; the Control Panel is much easier to navigate than the cables, wires, and mechanisms that you find under the hood of a car....and you can use the tools in the Control Panel without getting your hands dirty.

In geek-speak, the Control Panel is the central location for all of the Windows operating system configuration needs. In everyday terms, it the place where you can work with the many tools that Windows offers to change and customize all of the settings. The Control Panel is part of the Window's operating system's graphical interface. As such, you will find that it consists of easy-to-understand icons that are each labeled as to their function.

The Control Panel has been around since the first version of Windows. Over the years, it has morphed into a very useful set of management tools for your computer. In a car you need to know where the hood release lever is, in Windows, you need to know how to access the Control Panel.

Windows Vista and Windows 7, you can access the Control Panel by clicking on the Start button and choosing Control Panel from the right column of choices. In Windows XP, you will click Start, then choose Control Panel from the left column. If you don't see the Control Panel listed, click on Settings from the left column and then click on Control Panel.

The Control Panel is a little different in Windows XP than it is in Vista and Windows 7. So let's talk about XP first. By default, the Windows XP Control Panel appears in what is called "Category View". This means that various functions have been put into Categories. Previous versions of Windows showed a list of icons, one for each function, in Windows XP, this is called the "Classic View". When you open the Control Panel in Windows XP if you see several categories listed you are in "Category View". If you see a window full of individual icons, you are in "Classic View". You can change the view by clicking on the words "Switch to Classic View" or "Switch to Category View" which is on the left side of the screen. Check out these two options and see which one you like. You can switch between them quite easily at any time.

In Windows Vista, you have the same choices, but you may have to click on "Control Panel Home" on the left side of the screen before you can click on "Classic View" or "Category View".

Microsoft made some changes in the Control Panel in Windows 7. They have eliminated the name Classic View. In Windows 7 you will see the words "View by" on the upper right side of the screen. Click on the down arrow next to those words and you will have three views to choose from: Category, Large Icons, or Small Icons. This Icon view is really the same as the Classic View. I prefer to use the Classic or Icon view, but again, you can check out all the views and see which one you like best.

There are 45 icons in the icon view in Windows 7 and about the same number in previous versions. If you look at the Classic or Icon view, you will see that the icons have labels, like Display, Sound, Power Options, Mouse, Keyboard, User Accounts, Folder Options, and Devices and Printers. You can click on any of these icons to open a window that will allow you to adjust, correct, and/or customize the settings of these areas. Take a look around. Check out Mouse area first. When you click on the mouse icon a windows with options will appear. It will have tabs at the top. You can click on each tab to see even more options. If you have never looked at these before you will be amazed at the number of things that you can do to customize your mouse. You can switch the buttons if you are left-handed. You can speed up and/or slow down the double-click speed. You can change the looks of the pointer. I you are using a mouse with a scroll wheel, you can even change how the wheel behaves.

Try a few things. The only caveat here is to document the changes that you are making so you can change them back if you want to.

Each of the items in the Control Panel allows you to change the settings in your computer. Look through and open up a few of them. There are hundreds of things that you can change and/or customize in the Windows operating system. Some of the Control Panel items are very useful for everyday tasks in Windows. Be sure to take a look.

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