Windows Management and Maintenance : The Windows 7 Control Panel (part 1)

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Just as with previous Windows versions, the Control Panel is the central location for making systemwide modifications to everything from accessibility options to user profiles. Windows 7 includes the third generation of Category view, first introduced in Windows XP. In Windows XP, Category view was merely annoying, while in Windows Vista, Microsoft somehow found a way to make it—in addition—disorienting, obtuse, and nearly incomprehensible. How did Microsoft do this time? While the Windows 7 Control Panel is still organized as a very wordy web page as in Windows Vista, with links to access virtually every individual Control Panel applet from one or more (mostly) logical categories that also include shortcuts to the most commonly used utilities, it does have one advantage over its Windows Vista and Windows XP predecessors: you can switch between Category view and individual shortcuts (Small Icons view or Large Icons view) at any time using a pull-down menu (refer to Figure 1). To help you make sense of and navigate through this “new and improved” Category view, see Tables 18 in the next section.

Figure 1. The Control Panel in the default Category view (left) and the Small Icons view (right). You can also choose Large Icons view (not shown).

Table 1. System and Security Category
Applet or SubcategoryTasks
Action CenterReports security and maintenance problems and offers solutions
Windows FirewallConfigures Windows Firewall
SystemDisplays processor speed, Windows Experience Index, remote access, and other system properties
Windows UpdateConfigures delivery and installation of updates to Windows and other Microsoft applications
Power OptionsManages power settings for laptop and desktop systems
Backup and RestoreFile backup/restore services; Enterprise, Professional and Ultimate versions also offer Complete PC (disaster recovery) backup/restore
BitLocker Drive EncryptionFull-disk encryption for internal and external hard disks and USB flash memory drives (Ultimate, Enterprise editions only)
Administrative ToolsTools for managing advanced features and diagnosing system problems

Table 2. Network and Internet Category
Applet or SubcategoryTasks
Network and Sharing CenterDisplays and configures network status
HomeGroupConfigures HomeGroup and sharing options
Internet OptionsConfigures security, connection, and other settings for Internet Explorer 8 and other Microsoft applications

Table 3. Hardware and Sound Category
Applet or SubcategoryTasks
Devices and PrintersAdds and configures devices, printers, and faxes
AutoPlayConfigures AutoPlay settings for supported devices
SoundConfigures audio hardware and system sounds
Power OptionsConfigures power plans, power buttons
DisplayAdjusts resolution, visual effects, display settings, and multiple monitor support

Table 4. Programs Category
Applet or SubcategoryTasks
Programs and FeaturesInstalls, enables, and removes Windows features and applications
Default ProgramsConfigures startup and default programs and file types
Desktop GadgetsAdds and configures desktop gadgets

Table 5. User Accounts and Family Safety Category
Applet or SubcategoryTasks
User AccountsCreates and configures user accounts and passwords
Parental ControlsConfigures parental controls and displays reports
Windows CardSpaceCreates and configures Information Cards for logging in to password-protected sites
Credential ManagerManages Windows credentials for logging on to Windows and websites

Table 6. Appearance and Personalization Category
Applet or SubcategoryTasks
PersonalizationConfigures visual effects, display settings, and sound effects
DisplayConfigures screen font size, display settings, resolution, and ClearType settings
Desktop GadgetsConfigures and installs desktop gadgets (replaces Windows Vista’s Sidebar)
Taskbar and Start MenuConfigures appearance of taskbar and Start menu
Ease of Access CenterConfigures user interface for users with limited vision or hearing
Folder OptionsConfigures folder settings
FontsViews, installs, and removes fonts

Table 7. Clock, Language, and Region Category
Applet or SubcategoryTasks
Date and TimeSets date, time, time zone; adds additional clocks; configures time synchronization
Region and LanguageSelects default language, location, keyboard settings

Table 8. Ease of Access Category
Applet or SubcategoryTasks
Ease of Access CenterConfigures user interface for users with limited vision or hearing
Speech Recognition OptionsConfigures speech recognition and microphone


By default, the Control Panel displays as a window when you click Start and select Control Panel. However, you can also configure the Control Panel to display as a flyout menu from the Start menu (a huge time-saver if you ask us). To make this your default setting, right-click the Start menu and select Properties. In the dialog box that appears, click Customize; then select the Display As a Menu radio button under the Control Panel in the list of Start menu items. Control Panel items are displayed individually, as in Small Icons or Large Icons views (previously known as Classic view).

If you use a particular applet a lot, you can drag it into the Start menu or the taskbar for even faster access. Dragging an applet to the Start menu or taskbar doesn’t actually move the applet. Instead, it creates a shortcut.

As with previous versions of Control Panel, some items are simply a shortcut to operations you can perform in other ways. For example, you can adjust display and audio properties settings by right-clicking the desktop and selecting Personalize, or you can use the Appearance and Personalization category in the Control Panel. However, the Control Panel is also the home of applets that are not available elsewhere, such as iSCSI Initiator and Parental Controls.

As with previous versions, the preference settings you make via the Control Panel applets are stored in the Registry. Some are systemwide, whereas others are made on a per-user basis and go into effect the next time you log in.

Keep in mind that you must have Administrator-level access to modify many of the settings in the Control Panel. User-level settings such as display appearances are not a big deal. However, systemwide settings such as the addition and removal of hardware are governed by system security settings, and you must have the requisite permissions to successfully make modifications. Depending upon the settings you use for User Account Control (UAC), you might see the UAC dialog box appear when you select options marked with the Windows 7 security shield. Administrators using the Windows 7 default settings for UAC will see the UAC dialog box far less often than with Windows Vista. However, if you are a standard user, not an administrator, you can expect to see the UAC dialog box appear about as often in Windows 7 as in Windows Vista.


Although the Control Panel’s Small Icons and Large Icons views offer more than four dozen icons, you may find that you use just a few of them frequently. To make it even easier to get to your favorites, you can add to the Jump List on the taskbar shortcuts to your favorite Control Panel icon or categories.

To use the shortcut, right-click the Control Panel icon on the taskbar and select the icon you want to open. It sure beats clicking through several menus.

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