The Control Panel is home to many of Windows’ advanced system configuration options such as display, sound and security settings. It has been with us for many years and hasn’t really changed much in appearance during that time, despite the addition of several functions. However, in Windows Vista, Microsoft has radically altered the Control Panel’s look and feel, which can create confusion among users, even for those who are more experienced. In this section, we will give you a guided tour around the new interface, show you some of themost useful new features and help you discover some of the lesser-known but very useful functions within Vista’s Control Panel, such as keyboard shortcuts and Autoplay.
Vista offers several ways to open the Control Panel. The easiest is to doubleclick the icon in the Welcome Center, which runs when Vista starts up. Another way is to press the Start button and choose Control Panel from the list on the right-hand panel of the Start menu. You’ll also find a link to the Control Panel in the task ribbon of your Computer window (Start > Computer). If you’d like a quickaccess icon to the Control Panel on your desktop, simply right-click where it says Control Panel in the Start menu and choose Show on Desktop as shown in the picture (right). Another way of running the Control Panel is to type control panel in the Search box on the Start menu and then hit the Enter key.
Now you’ve opened up the Control Panel, you might not like the way it looks, as in Vista all the tasks are arranged by category. It’s easy to make it look like XP’s version by clicking the Classic View link in the left-hand panel. To return to the Vista-type view, click the Control Panel Home link in the left-hand pane, or just click the Back arrow at the top left of the window next to the address bar. If you miss the old-style menu bar (whether in the Control Panel or any other Explorer window), you can toggle it on and off by pressing the Alt key on your keyboard. From here, you can make the menu bar permanently visible by choosing Tools > Folder Options, then clicking on the View tab as shown in the screenshot (left).
The default Classic View of the Control Panel is useful but still not perfect. You get to see an icon for every applet, but they’re only sorted by name,making it hard to pick out what you need. It’s easy to organise this view, though — just right-click an empty part of the window and select Group By > Category. You’ll still see an icon for every applet, but this time they’re displayed in categories. Another irritation with the regular icon view is that long applet names are only partially displayed (‘Problem Reports and Solutions’ becomes ‘Problem Reports a...’, for instance). Display the applets as tiles (right-click in the window, select View > Tiles) to always see the full name.
If your choice of Control Panel layout doesn’t help you find the function you need then Windows search should be able to help. Click in the search box at the top-right of the window, then type a word or two that relates to the feature you’re looking for: disk, printer, mouse, whatever it might be, and Windows will display a list of related links. Integrated search is a big step forward, but keep in mind that it only works fully in category view. Type Printer there, for example, and you’ll get links to add or remove printers, share a printer on the network, manage colours, update drivers and more. Type Printer in Classic View instead and you’ll get a single link to the Printers applet only, not nearly so helpful.
Now you’ve got used to changing the Control Panel’s layout, it’s time to start exploring some of the more advanced ways to use it. Press Start, then immediately type control. Press Enter and the Control Panel will launch. Press Start again, type ncpa.cpl, press Enter and you’ll see the Network Connections window open. You can do the same for many of the items in the Control Panel (the table on the right shows a selection of these shortcuts). This is a great way to launch your most frequently used Control Panel settings without having to move away from the keyboard to pick up your mouse.
TYPE THIS... …TO DO THIS
Appwiz.cpl Uninstall or change a program
Desk.cpl Change display settings
Firewall.cpl Configure Windows firewall
Inetcpl.cpl Change internet options
Intl.cpl Change regional and language options
Main.cpl Configure mouse settings
Mmsys.cpl Change sound settings
Ncpa.cpl Configure network connections
Powercfg.cpl Change power saving options
Timedate.cpl Change date and time
Wscui.cpl Open Windows Security Center
To access all the Control Panel functions directly from the Start menu, hover your mouse over the Start button, right-click and select Properties from the menu. You’ll then see a dialogue box with a button labelled ‘Customize...’ at the top right. Click this and scroll down until you see the Control Panel entry, then click the ‘Display as a menu’ button. This will make the Control Panel appear as a fly-out menu on the Start panel rather than opening up in a separate window. You can also do the same for the advanced System Administrative Tools. Just scroll down the Customize list to find the entry, then click the ‘Display on the All Programs and the Start menu’ button.
Windows Vista has the same Display Settings and Network Connections applets as XP, but they’re harder to find. Use System Restore to back up your setting before making any changes to the Registry (type System Restore into the Start menu Search box).Then click Start, type REGEDIT and press Enter on your keyboard to launch the Registry Editor. Now browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\ Microsoft\Windows\ CurrentVersion\Control Panel\don’t load. Right-click desk.cpl in the right-hand pane and click Delete > Yes to restore Display Settings, and similarly delete ncpa.cpl to restore the Network Connections applet. Reopen the Control Panel and your favourites will have returned.
The Autoplay applet is a welcome addition, delivering a sensible way to decide what your PC should do when you insert an audio CD, DVD or game. Click Control Panel, select Hardware and Sound if you’re using the category view, then click Autoplay to launch it. At its simplest you can use this to set up the media player that will be launched to play a particular file type. So you can click the DVD movie list, say, and select Play DVD Movie using Windows Media Player. You’ll often have many other actions available, though. Click the Audio CD list, for instance, and you’ll find Windows Vista can be set up to automatically rip music from an audio CD as soon as you insert it.
Another Windows Vista change has seen the File Types dialogue box (the place where you’d tell Windows which programs you’d like to use to open a particular file type) relocate from Windows Explorer to the Control Panel. If you want a different application to open when you double-click on MP3 files, for instance, click Programs (or Default Programs) > Associate a file type... to see the new applet. Scroll down the list, clicking on the .mp3 format when you’ve found it, then click Change program and choose your favourite MP3 player. It’s not there? Click Browse and navigate to your chosen program file. Click OK when you’re done, try double-clicking an MP3 file and Windows should now launch the application you’ve just selected.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Control Panel is the way all the most useful functionality is spread around several different applets. With just a couple of minutes work you can build your very own custom Control Panel applet that contains only the features you use most often. The tool that will manage all this for you is called the Microsoft Management Console. Click Start, type mmc.exe in the Search box and press [Enter] to launch it, then click File > Add/Remove Snap-in. Browse the contents of the ‘Available snap-ins’ box to discover the functionality that your custom applet will be able to include.
Select your favourite applets in the Available snap-ins list, then click Add (click Finish if prompted) to add them to your applet. If you’re not sure what to pick, then we’d opt for Computer Management, Device Manager, Disk Management, Event Viewer, Reliability and Performance Monitor, Services and Windows Firewall. Keep the list as short as possible, though, so it’s easy to find any particular function. Click OK when you’re done. You can then customise the interface if you like, perhaps removing the pointless Actions pane (View > Customize > clear the Action pane box). Click File > Save As to save the applet when you’re done, then launch it from Start > All Programs > Administrative Tools, or create a shortcut.
Now let’s have a bit of useful fun using a little-known brand new feature of the Control Panel. We’re going to show you in two steps how to make the standard system clock that appears on the Taskbar show you the time in three different time zones all at once. First, open Control Panel and click on ‘Clock, Language and Region’. Then click on ‘Add clocks for different time zones’. Your screen should now look like the one in the picture. Click on the top ‘Show this clock’ box and choose a time zone from the drop-down list, then give the clock a suitable name. Do the same for Clock two below this, but choose a different zone.
Click OK to exit the dialogue box. Now click once on the clock and you should see a picture like the screenshot (right), with three clocks showing the current time in your chosen time zones. If you hover your mouse over the clock for a second or two, you’ll see a mini-version of the clocks pop up. This Workshop has just scratched the surface of what you can do with the Control Panel, so don’t be afraid to explore it as long as you have User Account Control (UAC) enabled. Windows may sometimes warn you if you’re about to make any major changes to your PC. Just click the relevant button to proceed or cancel.
If you share your PC with less experienced users then it’s wise to make sure they can’t access these Control Panel features. Give your users their own account (Control Panel > User Accounts > Manage another account > Create an account). Choose the Standard User account and they’ll be unable to do much harm. To complete the job, log in to their account, run REGEDIT as described in Tip 7 and browse to H K E Y _ C U R R E N T _ U S E R \ S o f t w a r e \ M i c r o s o f t \Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer. Right-click in the right-hand pane, click New DWORD value, and call it NoControlPanel, then double-click this and set its value to 1. Close the Registry Editor and they’ll get a warning message if they try to run Control Panel — your settings are safe.