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.
The Windows 11 Control Panel is a bit more hidden than in other versions of Windows; search for it from the taskbar. In other 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.
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.
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.
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 in Windows 11/10 and to PC Settings in Windows 8.