Unlock Windows Potential: Control Panel Demystified

If you want to be the master of your Windows experience, the Control Panel is where it’s at. While some people speculate that it may be replaced by the Settings app in Windows 10, it’s hard to imagine the Control Panel will ever go away. It may, however, join the Run menu and the Command Prompt as a power tool more or less exclusively employed by advanced users.

Control Panel Basics

The Control Panel hosts a collection of applets that let you adjust your computer’s settings. By default, you’ll see the category view. For a more comprehensive view of all applets, switch to large or small icons display via the View By: menu in the top right. The exact selection of applets depends on your hardware and version of Windows. The screenshots in this article were made in Windows 10 Technical Preview (TP).

Control Panel Category vs Icons View

Some features you can access include Windows troubleshooters (System and Security > Find and fix problems), desktop wallpapers (Appearance and Personalization > Change desktop background), or default programs (Programs > Default Programs).

How to Open the Control Panel

Microsoft has not shipped Windows with a keyboard shortcut to the Control Panel since Windows Vista. If you’re still on Windows XP, Windows Key + C should bring it up. While the shortcut has vanished, many more routes still lead to the Control Panel.

In any version of Windows, you can launch the Control Panel through a system search. In Windows 7 and 10, just hit the Windows Key, type control panel, and hit Enter. In Windows 8 and 8.1, press Windows Key + Q to open the Search charm, enter your search query. From the Start screen, just start typing and the Control Panel should come up as an option.

Alternatively, open the Run menu by pressing Windows Key + R, then type control, and hit Enter.

In Windows 7, you’ll find the Control Panel in the Start Menu. In Windows 8 and 10, press Windows + X or — as of Windows 8.1 — right-click the Start button to open the power user menu, and finally press P to launch the Control Panel.

In Windows 8 or 8.1, press Windows Key + I to open the Settings charm, TAB to the Control Panel in the Settings list, and hit Enter to open it. While you’re on the Start screen, expand All Apps, swipe or scroll over to the Windows System category, and open it from there.

When you open (File) Explorer by pressing Windows Key + E, you’ll find links to the Control Panel under Computer / This PC. In Windows 7, there’s an Open Control Panel button. In Windows 8 and 10, you’ll spot various shortcuts to Control Panel functions in the Computer tab. Where Windows 10 has an Open Settings icon, Windows 8 will display an Open Control Panel button.

Windows 10 Explorer

Unfortunately, Cortana in Windows 10 TP is not yet able to open the Control Panel.

God Mode: Comprehensive List of Control Panel Applets

On the surface, the Control Panel is far less intimidating than the Command Prompt. The graphical user interface makes it accessible. Once you enter, however, you’re sucked into a complex maze of nested dialogs and tabbed options windows.

To get a comprehensive overview of this complexity, i.e. a list of all applets contained within the Control Panel, enable God Mode. Copy the following line of text:

God Mode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

Then right-click an empty spot on your Desktop, select New > Folder, and paste the text from above in folder name field. If it worked, you should see the Control Panel icon and the folder name should have changed to God Mode. Opening the new folder will launch an Explorer window with a very long list of Control Panel applets. Thankfully, that list is searchable.

Windows 10 God Mode

Quickly Launch Control Panel Applets

There might be applets that you need over and over again. For me that’s managing power options or installed programs. A faster way to access applets than to go through the Control Panel or even God Mode, is to launch them via the Command Prompt or Run menu (Windows Key + R). From here you can execute applets by calling up their respective CPL files.

Here are a few examples that will work in Windows 10, 8, and 7:

  • Accessibility Options – control access.cpl
  • Action Center – control wscui.cpl
  • Administrative Tools – control admintools
  • Device Manager – control hdwwiz.cpl
  • Devices and Printers – control printers
  • Folder Options – control folders
  • Network Connections – control netconnections
  • Personalization – control desktop
  • Power Options – control powercfg.cpl
  • Programs and Features – control appwiz.cpl
  • Regional Settings – control intl.cpl
  • System – control /name Microsoft.System
  • Task Scheduler – control schedtasks
  • User Accounts – control userpasswords
  • Windows Mobility Centercontrol /name Microsoft.MobilityCenter

About Tech offers a rather long list of Control Panel commands, including a note on which version/s of Windows each one will work. Windows 10 is not yet included. Also check out their visual list of Control Panel applets.

Re-enable Windows Update in Windows 10 Technical Preview

You may know that Windows Update disappeared from the Control Panel in Windows 10 TP. It has been moved to the Settings app (Windows key + I). The pity is that it lost some features. While you can still remove updates via Programs and Features > View installed updates, you can no longer prevent updates from being installed in the first place; this option is literally out of your control. You can, however, apply a registry tweak to bring the Control Panel version of Windows Update back, at least temporarily.

Press Windows + R to open the Run menu, type regedit, and press Enter to launch the Registry Editor. Navigate to HKEY_Local_Machine > Software > Microsoft > Windows Update > UX and change the REG_DWORD value of IsConvergedUpdateStackEnabled from 1 to 0.

Microsoft warns that this registry tweak could break Windows Update or prevent you from receiving future Technical Preview builds.

Get in Control

Its depth and complexity make the Control Panel so challenging to navigate. Relevant cross-links in the sidebar may seem like clutter, but they help you spot all of the hidden options. The easiest way to find an applet is to search for it, either in the Control Panel or in the God Mode folder. In any case, once you get familiar with it, Windows without the Control Panel is tough to imagine.

Which Control Panel features are you using on a regular basis? Could you imagine Windows without the Control Panel?

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