The Control Panel centralises access to Windows’ multitudinous settings. From the Control Panel you can adjust and tweak Windows’ appearance, performance, network connections, hardware settings and a whole lot more.

While many of the settings in the Control Panel are also accessible in other ways – for instance, you can change the desktop appearance by right-clicking the desktop and choosing Properties from the pop-up menu or by opening the Display applet in the Control Panel – the Control Panel makes it easy to keep tabs on all your Windows settings.

Control Panel categories

In Windows XP, the Control Panel has two modes. The default mode, in the Home Edition, is the colourful and friendly Category View, which divvies up the Control Panel applets into nine categories: Appearance and Themes; Network and Internet Connections; Add or Remove Programs; Sounds, Speech, And Audio Devices; Performance and Maintenance; Printers and Other Hardware; User Accounts; Date, Time, Language and Regional Options; and Accessibility Options.

There’s actually a tenth category – easy to miss as it is only available via the task pane – called Other Control Panel Options. This is where Windows puts Control Panel applets installed by third-party applications, such as a QuickTime control or a special display control for your video card.

The other way to view the Control Panel is by the Classic View, familiar to anyone who has used the Control Panel in previous versions of Windows. In Classic View, all the applets are dumped into the one folder. It may be a little intimidating to start with, but it makes it much easier to track down all the Control Panel items and reduces the number of clicks required to access them.

You open the Control Panel by clicking Start -> Control Panel. If it’s not on your Start Menu, it’s easy to add:

  1. Right-click the Start button and choose Properties from the pop-up menu.
  2. On the Start Menu tab, make sure the first (non-classic) Start Menu option is selected and click Customize.
  3. Click the Advanced tab.
  4. In the Start Menu Items list under the Control Panel section, select either Display As Link or Display As Menu. The former (the default) simply displays a Control Panel option on the Start Menu; the latter displays the Control Panel option with a cascading menu providing direct access to each Control Panel applet. I prefer the former because I like to create shortcuts to only those applets I use often – I’ll show you how soon; I can do without the others cluttering up my Start Menu.
  5. Click OK twice to exit the dialogs.

Note, if you use the Display As Menu option for the Control Panel, you can still open the standard Control Panel window by clicking Start and then right-clicking the Control Panel option in the Start Menu and selecting Open from the pop-up menu.

Quick access

Some Control Panel applets are pretty esoteric and you’re unlikely to call on them often, if at all. For example, the Java Plug-in control, which makes an appearance in the Control Panel if you install any version of the Java Runtime Engine, is something most of us never need to touch.

Other applets, though, are so useful you’ll want to make them as easy to get at as possible. In last month’s column, I showed you how to create shortcuts to Control Panel applets such as Add Or Remove Programs by dragging them onto your Quick Launch bar. That gives you single-click access to your favourite applets.

If you have half a dozen Control Panel favourites, instead of cluttering up your Quick Launch bar you can always create a custom Control Panel folder which you can access either by the Start Menu or via the Quick Launch bar. This works much like the Display As Menu option described above, but in this case you get to pick and choose which applets appear in the menu (see the section Roll your own Control Panel below).

Display the Control Panel in My Computer

Want to see the Control Panel in My Computer? You can add it via the Folder Options dialog: open any folder, choose Folder Options from the Tools Menu, click the View tab and select the option.

Tab hopping

Another way to burrow down quickly to out-of-the-way Control Panel settings is to make a direct call to the specific Control Panel applet. Using this technique you can even open a Control Panel applet to a specific tab.

For instance, if you frequently tinker with the sounds events on your system, normally you get to these settings by clicking Start -> Control Panel -> Sounds, Speech and Audio Devices -> Change the Sound Scheme. Using a direct call, you can get there much faster.

First, a bit of background. Control Panel applets are stored in files with a .cpl extension. If you take a look in your Windows\System32 folder you’ll find them there. (It makes it easier to see them all if you right-click in a blank spot and choose Arrange Icons By -> Type, select the Details View, and then scroll down the list and look for Control Panel Extensions.) You can run any applet by double-clicking its cpl file.

A faster way to run any applet is to issue a direct command:

control applet.cpl

where applet is any Control Panel applet on your system. Table 1 shows a list of the most common ones. Simply typing control by itself opens the Control Panel.

Table 1. Common Control Panel applets
Accessibility Options access.cpl
Add New Hardware Wizard hdwwiz.cpl
Add/Remove Programs appwiz.cpl
Date and Time Properties timedate.cpl
Display Properties desk.cpl
FindFast findfast.cpl
Folder Properties * folders
Fonts Folder * fonts
Internet Properties inetcpl.cpl
Joystick Properties joy.cpl
Keyboard Properties main.cpl keyboard
Mouse Properties main.cpl
Network Properties ncpa.cpl
Password Properties password.cpl
Phone and Modem options telephon.cpl
Power Management powercfg.cpl
Printers Folder * printers
Regional settings intl.cpl
Scanners and Cameras sticpl.cpl
Sound Properties mmsys.cpl sounds
Sounds and Audio Device Properties mmsys.cpl
System Properties sysdm.cpl
User settings nusrmgr.cpl
TweakUI tweakui.cpl

Note options marked with an * have special shortcut names which may be used instead of the usual control applet.cpl,applet_number format.

So, for example, to open the Sounds and Audio Device Properties dialog you click Start -> Run, type:

control mmsys.cpl

and click OK.

How, then, do you gain access to a specific tab in that dialog box? You use an extended form of the Control command:

control applet.cpl,@applet_number,tab_number

The applet_number is rarely required. There are a couple of cpl files which give access to multiple applets and in those cases you use the applet_number to identify which one you’re calling. For example, main.cpl provides access to both the Mouse and the Keyboard properties. The numbering starts at 0, so control main.cpl,@0 opens the Mouse Properties, control main.cpl,@1 opens the Keyboard Properties. If you don’t include an applet_number, @0 is assumed.

The tab_number is the number of the tab you want selected in the dialog box, with numbering starting from 0 from the left.

If you want to use a tab_number but want to omit the applet_number (or leave its value at 0), insert an extra comma before the tab_number to indicate the missing value. Thus:

control main.cpl,,3

opens the Mouse Properties dialog to its fourth tab.

So to open the Sounds and Audio Device Properties dialog with the Sounds tab already selected, click Start -> Run and enter the command:

control mmsys.cpl,,1

Tab shortcuts

Instead of typing these commands each time, create a desktop shortcut for your favourites and then stick them in the Quick Launch bar or wherever else you choose:

  1. Right-click the desktop and choose New -> Shortcut.
  2. Type the appropriate command in the Create Shortcut dialog and click Next. For example:
    control appwiz.cpl,,2
  3. (this will open the Add Or Remove Programs dialog with the Add/Remove Windows Components section selected).

  4. Give your shortcut a descriptive name, such as Remove Windows Components, and click Finish.

Step-by-step: Roll your own Control Panel

1. It’s easy to create a Control Panel which contains only your most frequently used applets.

Start by right-clicking the Start button and choosing Open. This opens the \Documents and Settings\username\Start Menu folder (where username is your Windows logon name).Create your own Control Panel

2. Create a new folder within this folder and call it whatever you like – My Controls, for example. Then click Start -> Control Panel to open the original Control Panel and click Switch To Classic View if you’re not already in that mode. Position the two folders side by side.Create a My Controls folder

3. Right-click-and-drag your favourite applets from the Control Panel folder into your My Controls folder and choose Create Shortcut(s) Here when prompted, then close both folders.Create a folder shortcut

4. You can access the applets in this folder by clicking Start -> All Programs -> My Controls. You can also stick the folder on your Quick Launch bar:

  1. Click Start -> All Programs.
  2. Hold down the Ctrl key and drag the My Controls item onto the Quick Launch bar.

In this way, you can gain quick access to all your favourite applets while adding only a single icon to the Quick Launch bar.Add the shortcut to Quick Launch