Control Panel User Interface

Control Panel allows users to configure operating system features and perform related tasks such as hardware and software setup and configuration, security, system maintenance, and user account management. Many users do not perform Control Panel tasks frequently, so they may not remember how to begin, perform or complete these tasks. Control Panel has lots of control panel items, so some users have difficulty knowing which tasks to perform with which applets.

Microsoft Windows Vista provides a visually enhanced and better-organized user interface that alleviates these problems and makes Control Panel easier to use. Windows Vista also makes it easier for software developers to add their own applets and tasks to the Control Panel.

Microsoft Windows Vista® provides new features that make Control Panel more user-oriented. The new features include:

  • A fast search that allows users to quickly find applets and tasks from anywhere in Control Panel

  • A more enhanced Control Panel Home (similar to the category view in Windows XP®) that makes browsing easier

  • Tasks Links that allow users to easily find tasks associated with each applet

  • An easy way for software developers to add and register their own applets and tasks in Control Panel

  • A new syntax for opening Control Panel applets programmatically

This article highlights the new search, the enhanced views, and the new Task Links. The article also provides a brief summary of the new way to add and register applets, and explains the new syntax for opening Control Panel applets. Software developers can see Developing for the Control Panel for detailed information on how to add applets to the Control Panel, and the new syntax for opening Control Panel applets.

Searching for Applets and Tasks Is Easy and Fast

The new search is a major new feature in Windows Vista Control Panel.

The new search provides:

  • The ability to quickly find applets and tasks from anywhere in Control Panel.


Tasks cannot be searched in Classic View.

  • The ability to quickly find applets from the Start Search box.

  • The ability to launch applets and tasks from search results.

Although Windows Vista provides almost twice as many applets as Windows XP, this new search feature makes navigating Control Panel very easy. The search works by finding matching applets or tasks based on query hits in the title and description of the applet. The search also finds matching tasks based on query hits in the title of the task and keywords associated with tasks.

Users can display an applet or launch a task by simply clicking a search result. For example, you can initiate a search in the Control Panel Home page by typing the word "background" in the Search box. Search will return applets and tasks related to "background". You can click Change desktop background under Personalization to launch the Control Panel item where you can change your desktop background. Alternately, you can click the personalization applet to display applets and tasks associated with personalizing your computer and then click the Desktop background task link to launch the Control Panel item where you can change your desktop background.

The following illustration shows the search results for the word "background" in Control Panel.


The scope of the search routine includes all tasks related to "background", so applets and tasks that are not visible in the Control Panel Home or where the search was initiated are also returned in the search result. A few commonly misspelled words (that is, words associated with tasks you can perform in Control Panel) have been added to a task keywords list in the search to improve search results. The discovery of applets, Control Panel items and their functionality is therefore easier in Windows Vista.

Search is designed to store tasks and their keywords together in the same file. Search simply reads the contents of the file, compares the text of the task you provide in the Search box to the keywords in the file, and returns the Task Link and the name of the task if there is a match.  Although the word you type in the Search box may not be the name of any applet or task, search will return a valid result if it finds a keyword that matches your query. For example, if you search for the word "mute", the result will include "Adjust system volume" but "mute" is neither an applet nor a task. This is because "mute" is one of the keywords associated with the "adjust system volume" task.

In Windows Visa, you can also search for applets by title from the Start search box.

The following illustration shows the search results after searching the keyword "mute."


Enhanced Control Panel View

Control Panel in Windows Vista has two views; Classic View and Control Panel Home. Classic View shows all the applets and their titles in a big alphabetical list, and Control Panel Home shows all the applets organized in categories. Control Panel Home also shows some of the most commonly used Task Links.

Classic View

Classic View in Windows Vista is essentially the same as in Windows XP, to maintain backward compatibility and continuity for experienced users who prefer using Classic View. New in both Classic View and Control Panel Home, is the Search box (wordwheel) which allows you to search applets by name. Also new in Classic View is the category column. You can sort applets by category by clicking the category column in Classic View. Although Windows Vista supports Classic View, almost all the improvements and new features are in Control Panel Home.

From Classic View, you can click Control Panel Home on the Navigation Panel to switch to Control Panel Home.


Classic View allows you to search applets only by name. Tasks and keywords do not appear in Classic View.

The following illustration shows Classic View in Control Panel.


Control Panel Home (Similar to Category View in Microsoft Windows XP)

Microsoft’s investment in Control Panel enhancements are mostly in Control Panel Home. This was done to improve the user experience in Control Panel and make it easier for software developers, administrators and other users to complete their tasks quickly and efficiently.

In Windows Vista, navigation in the categories has been redesigned so that each category appears as its own page in the breadcrumb bar and navigation pane. As a result, navigating the Control Panel by category is much easier.

New Task Links for Easy Navigation in Control Panel

Control Panel now has new hyperlinks that allow quick and easy navigation. In Control Panel Home, you can select a category to display the applets in that category. You can then click an applet to open the Control Panel item, or click a Task Link that appears under the applet to display a few of the tasks you can perform with that applet. A task is an action that Control Panel applets can perform. Tasks appear as hyperlinks that you can use for easy navigation. Many Task Links jump to a sub-page or tab that lets you navigate right to the place where you can perform the task the link describes. The name of Task Links show users upfront what the applets do. The name and the description of Task Links therefore make applet’s functionality easily discoverable.

Once a task is invoked, it appears in the Recent Tasks list on the Navigation Panel. The first time you open Control Panel; it opens in Control Panel Home, shows the categories, and displays the most frequently used tasks. The next time you open Control Panel, it opens the last view you opened and displays a list of recent tasks you performed (that is, the Recent Task list).

The following illustration shows Control Panel Home.


Adding and Registering Your Own Applets and Tasks

Adding your own applet to Control Panel is easier in Windows Vista. Software developers can easily add their own applets and tasks to Control Panel.

There are three types of Control Panel applets: command objects, shell folders, and CPLs. Command objects are applets that run commands specified in the registry. Shell folders are applets that open up in the Control Panel. CPLs implement the CplApplet function. Command objects are the easiest to implement.

The process of adding applets to Control Panel in previous versions of Windows is not as easy as using command objects because the applets have to implement the CplApplet interface. Although the CplApplet interface is still supported in Windows Vista, using command objects is encouraged since it is easier to implement.

Now, in Windows Vista, you can just write an executable (.exe), register it as a command object and the applet appears in Control Panel. For more information on how to add and register your own applet in Control Panel, see Developing for the Control Panel

A New Syntax for Opening the Control Panel Applets

Windows Vista provides a new syntax for opening Control Panel applets from code, and the Start->Run menu by specifying simple, easy to understand canonical names. These new canonical names are the best way to access applets because, the canonical name remains the same if the implementation or filename ever changes.

In previous versions of Windows, you launch Internet Properties, the Internet Explorer Control Panel applet, with the following syntax: Control.exe inetcpl.cpl. This syntax only works as long as the applet is implemented with a .cpl file. This syntax has changed in Windows Vista. Many of the files that are .cpl files in Windows XP are now implemented as Shell folder applets. For example, desk.cpl is replaced with the Personalization applet and nusrmgr.cpl is replaced with User Accounts. The way to access these new in-frame applets is with this new syntax using the canonical name. To access the Personalization applet, for example, you use control.exe /name Microsoft.Personalization. To access the user accounts applet, you use control.exe /name Microsoft.UserAccounts.

These new canonical names are easier to remember than the filenames. For a complete list of all the canonical names that ship with Windows Vista, see Developing for the Control Panel.


Microsoft Windows Vista makes working in the Control Panel easier for everyone including non-IT users, system administrators and software developers. You can now easily navigate the Control Panel and find what you are looking for with the new search capability. You can also easily find out the purpose of different applets and launch tasks with the new task links.

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