What Is the Windows Control Panel?

The Control Panel lets you make changes to Windows settings

The Control Panel is the centralized configuration area in Windows computers, laptops, and tablets. It helps you adjust nearly every aspect of the operating system, including keyboard and mouse function, passwords and users, network settings, power management, desktop backgrounds, sounds, hardware, program installation and removal, speech recognition, and parental control.

How to Access the Control Panel

Think of Control Panel as the place to go in Windows if you want to change something about how it looks or works. In recent versions of Windows, Control Panel resides in the Windows System folder or category in the Apps listing. In other versions, open the Start menu and then choose Control Panel, or Start > Settings > Control Panel.

See How to Open Control Panel for detailed, OS-specific directions.

Although it's not an "official" way to open and use the options in Control Panel, there's also a special folder you can make called GodMode that gives you all the same Control Panel features but in a simple one-page folder.

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.

Windows 11 Control Panel

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 the program, 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.

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.

Control Panel Views

The applets in Control Panel display 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 11, 10, 8 & 7: Control Panel applets display 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 11, 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 components were even moved to the Settings app and PC Settings in Windows 11/10 and Windows 8, respectively.

Even though Control Panel is available in almost every Windows operating system, significant differences in the number and scope of applets occur from one Windows version to the next.

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