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What is a Control Panel?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

In a software operating system (OS), the control panel allows a user to configure options and settings for various aspects of the computer system from one central location. The control panel is accessible by differing paths depending on the operating system. In Microsoft® Windows® 7 it can be reached by clicking the Windows® orb, which brings up a sub-menu that includes a link to the control panel. In many Apple® systems, the control panel is available through the Finder. Virtually all configurable aspects of the OS and basic system hardware can be accessed through this interface, making it quite handy.

One of the first reasons one might visit the control panel upon using a new system is to setup user accounts with special permissions or restrictions, as desired. User login names and passwords can be set here and later changed, if required.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

Built-in system security is also available through the control panel with links to the default firewall and sometimes to pre-installed anti-malware software. Many users choose to disable the built-in firewall in favor of a stronger third-party firewall, which can be done here. Pre-installed anti-malware software might also be scrapped for better protection.

Mouse settings can be easily accessed, setting cursor speed, double-click response, scrolling behavior and custom button assignment. Touchpads will feature extended menus with tap zones, sensitivity and other options.

For computers so equipped, external speakers can be enabled in the Sound applet, along with surround-sound and special effects, such as contouring environments like Arena and Auditorium. Equalizer profiles, including Pop, Rock and Jazz might also be available, as will the ability to switch listening ports, from analog line-in to digital S/PDIF-out. Microphone settings with echo or other related effects are configurable to taste.

The control panel also provides access to a list of installed programs along with the ability to easily uninstall them from this one convenient location. In the case of a suite, such as Microsoft® Office, one can use the applet to add features that weren’t initially installed by providing the program disc when requested.

Access to connected printers, installed fonts, networking options, and optional parental controls can also be found in the control panel. Default programs can be assigned to handle specific tasks such as email, Internet browsing, and the opening of multimedia files.

Troubleshooting and administrative tools are also accessible through the control panel. Here one can view running processes and change the start status, check the health of a hard disk, defragment a drive, view system event logs, schedule tasks, etc. System backup and recovery, and the creation of restore points can also be found here.

The best way to get to know your control panel is by taking some time to click through the applets. You will likely find a way to change something that will make your system feel more comfortable, operate better, or be more pleasing to your eye.

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