Control Panel in Windows

Use the Control Panel to Make Changes to Windows Settings

Screenshot of the Control Panel in Windows 10
Control Panel (Windows 10).

Control Panel is the centralized configuration area in Windows. It's used to make changes to nearly every aspect of the operating system.

This includes keyboard and mouse function, passwords and users, network settings, power management, desktop backgrounds, sounds, hardware, program installation and removal, speech recognition, parental control, etc.

Think of Control Panel as the place to go in Windows if you want to change something about how it looks or works.

How to Access the Control Panel

In recent versions of Windows, Control Panel is accessible from the Windows System folder or category in the Apps listing.

In other versions of Windows, click Start and then Control Panel or Start, then Settings, then Control Panel.

See How to Open Control Panel for detailed, operating system specific directions.

Control Panel can also be accessed in any version of Windows by executing control from a command line interface like Command Prompt, or from any Cortana or Search box in Windows.

How to Use the Control Panel

The Control Panel itself is really just a collection of shortcuts to individual components called Control Panel applets. Therefore, to use Control Panel really means to use an individual applet to change some part of how Windows works.

See our Complete List of Control Panel Applets for more information on the individual applets and what they are for.

If you're looking for a way to access the areas of Control Panel directly, without first going through Control Panel, see our List of Control Panel Commands in Windows for the commands that start each applet. Since some applets are shortcuts to files with the .CPL file extension, you can point directly to the CPL file to open that component.

For example, control timedate.cpl works in some versions of Windows to open the Date and Time settings, and control hdwwiz.cpl is a shortcut to Device Manager.

Note: The physical location of these CPL files, as well as folders and DLLs that point to other Control Panel components, are stored in the Windows Registry HKLM hive, under \SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\; the CPL files are found in \Control Panel\Cpls and all the rest are in \Explorer\ControlPanel\Namespace.

Here are a few of the thousands of individual changes that are possible from within Control Panel:

Control Panel Views

The applets in Control Panel can be viewed in two major ways: by category or individually. All Control Panel applets are available either way but you may prefer one method of finding an applet over the other:

Windows 10, 8, & 7: Control Panel applets can be viewed by Category which groups them together logically, or in the Large icons or Small icons view which lists them individually.

Windows Vista: The Control Panel Home view groups applets while the Classic View shows each applet individually.

Windows XP: Category View groups the applets and Classic View lists them as individual applets.

Generally, the category views tend to give a bit more explanation about what each applet does but sometimes makes it hard to get right to where you want to go. Most people prefer the classic or icon views of Control Panel since they learn more about what the various applets do.

Control Panel Availability

Control Panel is available in nearly every Microsoft Windows version including Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows 98, Windows 95, and more.

Throughout the history of Control Panel, components were added and removed in every newer version of Windows. Some Control Panel components were even moved to the Settings app and PC Settings in Windows 10 and Windows 8, respectively.

Note: Even though Control Panel is available in almost every Windows operating system, some small differences do exist from one Windows version to the next.

Was this page helpful?