NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, February 2010
Windows Control Panel Basics
Written by Phil Sorrentino,
President, Sarasota PCUG, Florida July 2009 Monitor

president (at) spcug.org (click to email author)

This article has been obtained from APCUG with the author’s permission for publication by APCUG member groups; all other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

The Windows Control Panel is the component of the Windows User Interface that allows users to modify and personalize the way Windows (XP and Vista) to operate. All of the User Interface Settings and controls that are under user control can be manipulated by the small applications (called applets) that are part of the Windows Control Panel. (Control Panel applet files have .cpl as the file extension, so if you come across a file that has a .cpl suffix, don’t move or delete it, it’s probably a control panel applet.) For the names of each of the Control Panel applets, visit the Microsoft site at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/313808. In XP, Vista (and probably Windows 7), the Windows Control Panel has two views, the “Classic View,” and the “Category View.” For convenience, the user can switch between these two views.

· The Classic view consists of shortcuts directly to the various Control Panel applets. Each applet does a specific job.

· The Category view consists of categories which, when clicked, display the Control Panel applets related to that category. The Category View divides the Control Panel applets into logical categories:

After you choose a category, you may be taken directly to the appropriate applet, or you may be given a list of tasks that can be accomplished, such as the following for the Appearance and Personalization category:

If you are offered a list of tasks, choose a task and you will be taken directly into the correct screen and tab of the applet that will do the job. If you are familiar with the applets and you know just what you want to accomplish, the Classic view is probably the view to use. If you aren’t quite sure what the applet does, then the Category view may be the best choice. Either way, the idea is to get into the applet that controls the function that you want to modify or personalize. Once you are in the desired applet, you will have available all the screens, tabs and buttons that the User Interface provides.

Each Control Panel applet focuses on a specific functional area. Some applets control the way the User Interface looks such as “Display” and “Keyboard,” some control the way the User Interface acts such as “Automatic Updates” and “Folder Options,” and some control specific functional areas such as “Network Connections,” and “Sounds and Audio Devices.” Many applets control both the looks and actions in a specific functional area. For example, the Mouse applet controls the way the mouse cursor looks, and it also controls the way it acts when the mouse is clicked or double-clicked. On the other hand, Network Connections is used to set up a network and, once setup, you hardly know it is doing its job (but you’ll very quickly know when it’s not doing its job).

As an example of a Control Panel applet, let’s look at “Folder Options.” Understanding this applet is very helpful in explaining how certain things in Windows operate. (The following discussion applies directly to Windows XP. Vista is similar, but with small differences and instead of finding “File Types” in the “Folder Options” applet, it is found in the “Default Programs” applet.) In XP, when you double-click on the “Folder Options” applet, you are presented with a window with four tabs at the top. The first three tabs determine some very basic operations of the Operating System. The “General” tab has three controls: one for Tasks, one for rose Folders and the third for the action that opens windows. A recommended setting for Tasks is “Show common tasks in folders.” A recommended setting for Browse Folders is “Open each folder in its own windows.” And the recommendation for “Click items as follows:” is “Double-click to open an item (single-click to select).” Using this last recommendation will force items to be selected with one click and opened (or acted upon with a double-click). “The other item “Single-click to open an item (point to select)” will usually confuse a user, especially a new user.) The View tab presents a list of “Advanced settings” for “Files and Folders.” Each of these is selected by checking the check box next to the setting description. For general use, a recommendation would be to check the first six settings, and then check “Remember each folder’s view settings,” and finally check the last four settings. Also, choose the “Show hidden files and folders” and “Show and manage the pair as a single file” radio buttons.

Finally, the “File Types” tab controls the association for files types used on this particular computer. (Some common File Types are .doc, jpg, .mp3, .xls, .wmv, .avi.) When you select this tab, Windows will create a list of File Types, in alphabetical order, with their associated programs, that are used on this specific computer. The association is shown in the “Details for ‘.xyz’ extensions) (extension is used interchangeably with file type). This association list determines which program on this computer will be used to open, display and work with a specific file type. The “Opens with” item shows the program that will be used. (For example, .jpg may be associated with Windows Picture and Fax Viewer, or Adobe Photoshop Elements, or Paint, depending on which program or person last set up the associations.) The “Change” button next to the associated program name provides an opportunity to change the association. Pressing the “Change” button will produce a list of programs that could possibly be used in association with this file type. The list starts with “Recommended Programs,” and “Other Programs” are also listed. If you want to change the association, only choose one of the Recommended programs. These programs are known to work with these unexpected and possibly harmful results. Click on the Recommended program of your choice, and the association will be changed to your new selection. Press “Apply.” When you are finished making any additional association changes, press “OK.”

Knowledge of the “Folders Options” Control Panel applet is very helpful in explaining how and why certain actions are taken by Windows and Application programs on your computer. Other Control Program applets are equally important and will be discussed in future Monitor articles.

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