one showed you how to control the Taskbar. Lesson
two showed you how
to control the Display. In this third lesson, I'll show you how to control
the Control Panel.
The first thing you need to realize about the Control Panel, as with many
parts of your computer, is that it will not exactly resemble all the
images in this article. These are pictures of my Control Panel. Yours
will have icons that are specific to the features and programs you
have on your computer. Mine has panels customized to my computer.
However, there are some standard icons that come with all vanilla versions
of Windows. Although, even some of these will vary somewhat, too, because
you may not have the same features enabled as I do. Just keep this fact in
mind as you ferret around your system. You may have to take my instructions
with a grain of salt to find similar features within your computer.
And as the saying goes..."If all else fails, read the directions!"
Yes, you do have a user manual inside your computer. Use it. If there's
something you want to learn more about, go into Windows Help and
search out that information. To access Windows Help, click Start > Help
and Support. A
dialog box will appear where you can get into all kinds of trouble!<smile>
Control Panel Basics
Click Start > Control Panel. There you should see something
similar to the image below...a listing of all the icons contained in your
Control Panel. There are many viewing options, so yours may look a little
different. But you can customize the way it looks. If you don't like
the way yours looks, change it.
Notice the icon at the top that appears to be a Window with a drop down arrow.
If you click that arrow, other optional view choices will display. Experiment
and choose the look you prefer. But notice that the Details view also provides
comments that explain what each of these items do! So even if you prefer
not to keep the display in Details view, you might want to spend a little
time in that view reading what each icon controls.
In Windows XP, you can even change the view a little more dramatically. If
you click to Category View, you will get a list of Groups
for each set of controls. The current view below is the Classic
Now the image below shows the Category View. If this is your default view
and you'd prefer more details, you can click to use the Classic View, as
I do, shown in the image above.
And if you're a little more experienced using computers, you might prefer
to show your folders. If you click the Folders button, the
options that were displayed along the left will disappear and be replaced
by the image below...giving you quick access to your folder's Tree Structure.
Click the Folder button again to toggle the view back to the
If you need to search for a file, you can click the Search button here to
search your hard drive for a particular file. This same dialog can be accessed
by clicking Start > Search.
Note! In fact, you'll discover that many of these control icons can also be
accessed through other means. You'll remember in the article that concentrated
on customizing the Display, you were able to access the Display dialog through
the Control Panel. But you were also able to access Display by just right
clicking on your desktop and choosing Properties. The Control Panel just
provides you with a central location to find all this stuff when you can't
remember the shortcuts to access them.
We'll go through some of the icons in a moment,
but first I want to tell you about one important feature in here that you'll
want to consider using.
You'll note there's an option for Windows Update. Keeping
your version of Windows updated with the latest security patches and updates
is very important, particularly now that there are so many idiots out there
with nothing better to do with their lives than try to come up with the latest
virus to trash your system!
When you click this option, you'll be taken to the Microsoft
Windows Update site. Once you arrive, you can click the Scan for Updates link
on the site. It will run a program that scans your computer to see what critical
or suggested updates have not yet been installed on your system. You can
pick and choose what you want installed and then, conveniently, have those
fixes downloaded and installed to your system.
And to those of you out there who are paranoid and don't want Microsoft scanning
your computer, I'd suggest you read Greg's article:
the Worm Turns...Your Computer into a Zombie. There's a lot more
to fear on the Internet than allowing Microsoft to help you protect your investment!
Additionally, I would also strongly suggest you set up your computer so that
it automatically alerts you to the latest updates. If you have broadband
that is always connected to the Internet, updates will be downloaded and
you won't even notice. Then a dialog box will pop up from your system tray
letting you know there are new updates to install. A left click will get
the process started. A right click will tell the message to go away for the
moment. Or you can open the message and reset it to remind you a little later
if you're busy.
To set the Automatic Updates, access the Control
Panel through Start > Control
Panel. Locate the System Icon and click the Automatic
Updates tab. There,
as shown below, you will find the options to Notify you
only, download and
notify you, or simply download and install at a time
when you're probably not using your system.
Very convenient and very wise to use!
Note that you can also access the System Properties dialog box by right clicking
My Computer and choosing Properties, or by just hitting the Windows
+ Break keys
on your keyboard.
Control Panel Features
As I said, there are probably a lot of icons in your Control Panel. We won't
delve into them all, but we will take a quick look at many of them.
If you have any special accessibility needs, you might
find it useful to go through the Accessibility Options icon. Although most
Blind or physically disabled people will have special features on their computers
to help them use them, these features may prove useful for folks who need a
My mom is 84. Age has caused her to become a little slower and
more deliberate when she's using her computer. So we played around with
these features to see which ones might make using the computer easier for
her. Arthritis has bent up her fingers, so trying to hold down two keys simultaneously
is difficult. Using the Sticky Keys feature, she can now just
hit one control key and an access key without having to hold them both
down at the same time.
Nose around this dialog box and experiment. You might discover that some of
these features can be useful to you, as well.
If you don't understand what any of the options do, remember the help
At the top/right of the dialog box you'll see a button with a question mark
on it [?] (see the image above and note where the cursor is pointing). Click
that button and then click on the option you want to know about. As shown
below, a tip will appear that will provide you with a brief description
of what that feature does.
If you need more information...use Windows Help! By entering
in the name of the feature in the Help dialog, (access through
Start > Help) you'll get complete details and instruction
on the feature.
Just make sure you spell the feature correctly. Unfortunately, Windows Help
isn't very forgiving! Typing Sticky Keys (with a space) results in a
message telling me to check my spelling!<sigh> But after checking and typing
it as all one word, which is how the feature is typed, I found the answers.
Add and Remove Programs
Another important icon is the Add and Remove Programs icon.
I can't tell you how many people I've seen just go into their Windows Explorer,
click on a folder of a program they no longer want and hit the delete key!
Then they wonder why they keep getting error messages from "this
stupid computer" telling them that a program that should auto load
can't be found! "But I deleted it!" You sure did! You
deleted all the files. However, you didn't uninstall it! There lies
the key to their problem!
It's not critical to Add programs through this dialog box,
since most programs now have auto startups and they use Install Shield to
protect other programs when they install. But it is critical that you
properly uninstall programs. Few have their own uninstall program and it's
usually hard to find. So when you no longer want a program on your system,
click Start > Control Panel > Add and Remove Programs to
access the dialog box shown below.
Add and Remove Programs will not only allow you to see the programs installed
on your system, but you can click the drop down at the top to sort the list
in various ways. We all have programs we rarely use on our systems. If you're
hard up for hard drive space, you can go through the list and uninstall programs
you no longer use or rarely use. Just make sure you still know where those
original program CDs are located and that you still have the valid installation
key, should you ever need to reinstall that program...or you'll be out of
Along the left side of the above dialog box, you'll also notice an icon for
Adding and Removing Windows Components. These are the additional programs,
utilities and features that come with Windows. Click that icon to access
the dialog box shown below.
Here you can pick and choose which features you want available to you within
Windows XP. If you click on an item and the Details button
is available, that means there are additional choices you can make within that
category. So click the Details button to view what additional
things can be added or removed. Note however, that you may need your original
Windows XP CD handy when adding features.
Also, lots of software programs like to hijack all your file types and add
them to their own list of default files. One day you'll click on a picture
on your computer and it'll open in one program. Then you install some new
photo program and the next day you click on that same photo and now it opens
in another program. This is called association. Files are associated with
programs that use that file type—like how a .doc file knows to open
This is great most of the time. But problems arise when you have more than
one program that can use a particular file type. When programs battle for
control, they can hijack a file type on you. Microsoft has always been notorious
for this one! But they're far from the only software that swipes file types
without asking. A good software program will ask you during the install what
files you want associated with it.
But, thankfully, Microsoft has now added a feature in Windows that allows
you to control this hijacking. If you want all Microsoft applications as
default, you can set that. For those of you who hate Microsoft, you can choose
to set it all to non-Microsoft apps. And for those of you like me...who want
complete control...you can choose to customize what you do and don't want
Granted, you may still have to go into your Windows Explorer and reset some
associations, but this dialog will help you get more control.
The Folder Options icon allows you to set various views, as well as file
associations. There are two options that are set by default under the
Folder Options > View panel that you might want to adjust.
Because people rarely read the directions before they go messing with
their computers, a lot of folks get into trouble by deleting important
files they need. So over time, some of the views have been reset to protect
you from yourself. That can be a good thing for many people. I know my
mom doesn't need to worry about file extensions or hidden folders. But
that's because she has other people to help her keep her computer in
tune. If you don't have that luxury, there are a few options you might
want to adjust to make your life easier.
If you go into the View panel, you'll note the option: Hide
extensions for known file types. Having this one turned on is truly
an annoyance in my opinion! This hides the three letter extension that tells
you what type of files you have. In other words, you can't tell a .doc (Word
document) from a .txt (text file) from an .avi (video file). Sure, icons
next to the files can help, but, personally, I think this is the type of
information a person should be able to see so they can correctly handle
their files. Unchecking this option will turn those extensions back on and
allow you to see your file types more easily.
The next one will depend on your personal preference. However, because your
Local Settings folder, which contains your Temp directory
is listed as a hidden folder, it's impossible to find your Temp folder if
you have this option checked.
Why care about your Temp folder? Well, until
Microsoft sets up better ways to control all the junk that accumulates
in there and helps to trash your system when programs like Word won't run properly
due to too many crashed Word temp files in your Temp directory, you'll
have to continue to go in there regularly and clean out the clutter. See this
article for more information: Maintaining
As long as you're wise enough not to delete folders you
don't understand or that are shaded lighter than others, then you'll be okay.
(Note that when you turn on the hidden folder view, those designated with
the hidden attribute will appear, but will appear lighter than other folders.)
However, unless you're a seasoned professional using a computer, I would strongly
suggest you do not uncheck the option for Hide protected
operating system files. This could cause you to too easily trash your
system. So I'd suggest you leave this one checked! Remember...if you don't
know what each option can do for or against you...use the Help button and
click on the option for more details.
You'll find the Font icon in your Control Panel. It's very easy to accumulate
Fonts. Whenever you install a program that involves any typing, the
program usually also wants to install some of their own fonts. You can easily
end up with hundreds of fonts! But how many do you really use? Each time
Windows starts up, all these fonts need to be loaded so they're available
to you to use in those programs. If you want to speed up your system or need
to free up more space on your computer, you might want to consider getting
rid of some of the excess fonts.
Through the font dialog box, you can click optional views to see what fonts
are similar, as well as how much space they are using.
And if you double click on a font name, you'll get more details about the
font, including various size views to see how it looks. Just use some caution
when you decide to delete a font. Make sure you still have all your original
program CDs in case you delete a font and later realize you need it!
You can control the way your keyboard works through the Keyboard icon in
the Control Panel. Most computers will only offer minimal options here.
However, if you have a programmable keyboard, you will have additional
tabs, as you can see I have in the image below. Several keys on my keyboard
can be programmed. So the Key Settings tab is available
for me to apply customization to my keyboard.
If you have a programmable keyboard, but you don't see any special features
in this dialog box to allow you to change the way the keyboard works, you
probably haven't ever installed the drivers for the keyboard.
Drivers are actually software. They tell peripherals—those
items that connect to your computer, like a mouse, monitor, keyboard, microphone,
printer, scanner—how to interact with your computer and the other programs
you use. You should have received the driver software with
the peripheral. But you can also go to the manufacturer's web site and download
In fact, it's a good idea to regularly check for updated drivers.
If you're having problems with things not working properly, it might
be caused by an outdated driver. So, if you monitor is freezing up or your
printer isn't working as it previously did, you might want to see if an updated
driver will help.
You can make several adjustments to how your Mouse operates, too. In the
Control Panel, you'll find an icon for your mouse. And again, the options
available will depend a lot on the type of mouse you have and what tabs
are available from your mouse driver.
If you have additional buttons on your mouse, they can be programmed to operate
the way you want through this dialog box. And for those of you who are left-handed,
you can swap the left/right standard mouse button operations by making adjustments
in here. You can also change how fast or slow the mouse reacts.
You can also change the way your mouse looks on your screen by adjusting the
scheme you use for your pointers. Click the Scheme drop down and you'll find
a list of additional cursors. You can choose a full design scheme for your
pointers or click on the individual pointer and choose to change them separately.
Maybe you've downloaded some fun cursors? You would apply them to the pointers
through this dialog.
I wrote an article specifically on cursors that you can access HERE.
In that article, I also included a downloadable zip file containing a pile
of fun, animated cursors I've accumulated over the years. So if you want
more fun junk to load on your computer, go check out that article and download
that file. Then come back to your Mouse dialog box and Browse to those files
to apply your customizations.
Regional and Language Settings
Windows will default to the settings for the country version of the software
you purchased. But if you need to make any adjustments, you can do that
under the Regional and Language Options dialog. If you prefer
that your computer work with a 24 hr clock versus 12 hrs with AM and
PM, you can make that change here. Or maybe you need to work with additional
languages? Those settings can be adjusted here, as well. Remember to use
Windows Help feature if you need additional information to properly make
Sound and Audio Properties
Many computers come with special software for their sound cards.
Depending on the brand of sound card you have, it may have it's own software
that allows you to make several adjustments, such as displaying an equalizer.
And you can test/adjust your microphone in this dialog box. And if you
don't like the sound of the dings, beeps and clicks that your computer makes,
you can change the sounds associated to various events. Some folks enjoy
downloading different WAV (sound files) from the Internet and associating
them with various events on the computer. If you hear a friends computer
talking, singing or reciting cartoon or movie phrases from time to time,
that's how they made those customizations.
If you want to use your computer with a program that offers Voice Recognition,
such as many newer versions of Microsoft Office, you will have to train your
computer to recognize your voice. You'll do that here, within the Speech dialog box found in your Control Panel.
Excerpts from many books are provided for you to read in order to help train
your computer to recognize how you say words. You read the text into your
microphone, assuming you have one, as the computer moves through the text.
Your computer will then learn to associate the way you
say certain words and phrases in comparison with the text it's logging into
The more training you do, the better the computer will learn to recognize
how you speak. This will allow you to speak words to your computer, through
the microphone, and have voice recognition capable programs, such as Microsoft
Word, type the words for you. If you did a good job training your system,
you should experience few errors in the way your computer understands what
You can add or remove profiles to your computer to allow others to use it
by accessing the User Account dialog box in the Control Panel.
you can always just let someone sit down at your computer and type
away. But it's a good idea to create an account for them, first. This will
give them a profile where all their settings will be saved. Plus,
this means that they won't mess up your settings as they're working
away. Because any changes will be saved to their own profiles. So when
they logout of the computer and you log back in under your name, the computer
will still look the way you had it. In other words, if the other
user added icons to the desktop while logged in under their profile, those
icons won't show up on your desktop.
You can also control their rights under their profile account. If you don't
want someone else installing software on your computer, you can adjust their
rights so they don't have the ability to install stuff! This is how companies
can control what is installed on employee computers. The administrator has
rights to add software. But users need to be listed as administrators in
order to make system adjustments to the computer. Great for controlling how
others use your computer to avoid problems!
And if you want to know how to change the images that appear for each user,
be sure to read my
Your Windows XP Login Logo article.
Additionally, you can change the way users logon to the computer through
this dialog. If you work in an office that requires you to logon to your
computer, you might be familiar with the Ctrl + Alt + Delete key method of
accessing the logon dialog. If you prefer that to the less formal Welcome
view, you can change that here by turning off the Welcome Screen view.
You can also activate Fast User Switching from this dialog box. What's that?
Fast User Switching allows you to switch to another user's profile without
having to logoff your profile first. Let's say you're working away on a project
and one of your kids come running in saying that they need to use the computer
for a couple minutes. You hate the thought of having to close out of all
your programs because you just adjusted everything the way you like it! But
the thought of allowing your child to mess with the computer under your
Rather than closing our of all your programs and logging out to allow
Junior to log in under his own profile, you can just click the Log Off button.
But rather than choosing to fully log off...click the Switch
that will be displayed, as shown below. This will hold your profile in memory
and allow you to leave everything running just the way you had it, but Junior
can log in and mess up his own profile. Once he's done and logs out, the
computer will be returned to you just the way you left it. Much faster and safer
than the alternatives!
I'm sure you're anxious to get into your Control Panel now and start messing
with stuff. Just remember, use caution and read directions, if they
are provided. And if they are not and you're not sure what you're doing...read
the help files before you trash anything that might be difficult to
But part of the fun of having your own computer is the ability to customize
it to work the way you want it to work. Not to mention the fact that
the computer should be working for you and not the other way around.
So if you find that what you need to do to use your computer is somewhat
difficult or isn't the way you want it to work...customize it!