The Control Panel is a feature of the Windows operating system that allows the user to modify system settings and controls. It includes several small applications, or control panels, that can be used to view and change hardware or software settings. Some examples of hardware control panels are Display, Keyboard, and Mouse settings. Software control panels include Date and Time, Power Options, Fonts, and Administrative Tools.
Many control panels are included as part of the Windows operating system, but others can be installed by third-party applications or utilities. For example, if you add a new mouse to your computer, it may come with a CD for installing a control panel specific for that mouse. Some graphics cards may also install an additional control panel that gives the user greater control over the computer's visual settings. Regardless of when control panels are installed, they can always be found within the Control Panel folder.
The Windows Control Panel can be accessed by clicking the Start menu and selecting Control Panel. It is also available in the "Other Places" section of the window's sidebar when you open My Computer. In Windows XP and Windows Vista the Control Panel can be viewed in either Category View or Classic View. Category View arranges the control panels into sections, while Classic View shows them all at once. While the Category View is designed to make locating different settings easier, people familiar with most of the control panels often find the Classic View more efficient.
Control Panels were also used for many years by the Mac OS, through Mac OS 9. However, with the introduction of Mac OS X, control panels were consolidated into a single interface called System Preferences. The control panels themselves are now called "Preference Panes" in Mac OS X. They can be accessed by selecting "System Preferences" from the Apple menu or by clicking the System Preferences icon in the Dock.
Updated: October 18, 2007