Windows Vista’s Control Panel is chock full of specialized tools that are used to maintain, adjust, and tweak the way that Vista behaves. The default view of the Control Panel is called Control Panel Home and is basically arranged in a Category View. Unfortunately, these categories don’t have the most intuitive names, and many tools are buried beneath several layers, making them not only difficult to find but time-consuming to access.

To keep the old-school Windows users happy, Microsoft allows you to switch back to the Classic View, in which all the Control Panel’s tools are visible. However, this can also make it difficult to find what you need, because there are so many icons to sort through.

A new feature has been added to the Vista Control Panel to make it easier to find what you’re looking for — it is the ability to search for a specific tool in the Control Panel. You just type the name of the tool in the Search box in the upper-right corner of the Control Panel and the tool will bubble up to the top of the window. While this is a very nice feature, it does require that you know the name of the tool you’re looking for. Not a major inconvenience by any means, but it can still be a hindrance.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were an option that would allow you to reconfigure the Control Panel so that it would just show you those tools that you use on a regular basis?

While there isn’t such an option built in to Vista, there is a way you can create your own custom Control Panel. In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I’ll show you several techniques you can use to create your own custom Control Panel.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic Download.

Creating a folder

You’ll use a standard folder in order to create your custom Control Panel. Right-click on the Start button and select Explore. When Explorer opens the Start Menu folder, as shown in Figure A, double-click the Programs folder. Once the Programs folder opens, pull down the Organize menu and select the New Folder command. Then, name the new folder My Control Panel or something more to your liking.

Figure A

When you select Explore from the Start button’s context menu, the Start Menu folder opens.

Now, right-click your new My Control Panel folder, select the Properties command, choose the Customize tab, and click the Change Icon button in the Folder Icons panel. When the Change Icon dialog box appears, select an icon that will differentiate this folder from all the rest on the Start menu.

Now, drag your new My Control Panel folder from the Programs folder and hover over the Start button. When the Start menu opens, drag your new My Control Panel folder and drop it at the very top of the Start menu, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Placing you custom Control Panel at the top of the Start menu makes it very easy to locate.

Populating your Control Panel

At this point, you’re ready to add tools to your custom Control Panel. To do so, open your new My Control Panel folder from the Start menu. Then, open the original Control Panel and select Classic View. Now, just drag and drop the tools that you use most frequently from the original Control Panel to your new My Control Panel folder. As you do, Vista will create shortcuts to the tools. When it does so, Vista will append “- Shortcut” to each name. Of course, you can just delete that extension and rename the shortcut to whatever you wish. When you’re done, close both your new My Control Panel folder and the original Control Panel.

Now, when you need to use your favorite tool, just click Start button and select the My Control Panel icon. You’ll then be able to quickly access your favorite tools without any aggravation.

Using Control Panel command-line shortcuts

In most cases, using drag and drop to create shortcuts in your custom Control Panel folder will suffice. However, as you know, in Vista’s Classic View Control Panel, many tools are nested or buried inside other tools. For example, in order to get to Display Settings, you first have to open Personalization. Fortunately, some of the old Control Panel command-line shortcuts still exist in Vista, and you can use them in your custom Control Panel to cut out some of the extra steps.

Many of Vista’s Control Panel tools are found in CPL files in the Windows\System32 folder. Using the Control Panel command-line shortcuts, you can launch any of these CPL files using a command formatted as follows:

control tool.cpl

Where tool is any Control Panel tool on your system that still has a CPL file in the Windows\System32 folder.

You can make any tool that has multiple tabs even more targeted by adding a parameter that allows you to not only open a specific tool but to specify which tab you want to select. To do so, you use a command formatted as follows:

control tool.cpl,,#

Where # is the number of the tab you want to select.

The most useful of these types of Control Panel command-line shortcuts are listed in Table A.

Table A




Personalization Display Settings desk.cpl
  Desktop Icon Settings control desk.cpl,,0
  Screen Saver Settings desk.cpl,,1
  Appearance Settings desk.cpl,,2
System Properties Computer Name sysdm.cpl
  Hardware sysdm.cpl,,2
  Advanced sysdm.cpl,,3
  System Protection sysdm.cpl,,4
  Remote sysdm.cpl,,5
Internet Properties General inetcpl.cpl
  Security inetcpl.cpl,,1
  Privacy inetcpl.cpl,,2
  Content inetcpl.cpl,,3
  Connections inetcpl.cpl,,4
  Programs inetcpl.cpl,,5
  Advanced inetcpl.cpl,,6
Mouse Properties Buttons main.cpl
  Pointers main.cpl,,1
  Pointer Options main.cpl,,2
  Wheel main.cpl,,3
  Hardware main.cpl,,4
Regional and Language Options Formats intl.cpl
  Location intl.cpl,,1
  Keyboards and Languages intl.cpl,,2
  Administrative intl.cpl,,3
Sound Playback mmsys.cpl
  Recording mmsys.cpl,,1
  Sounds mmsys.cpl,,2

What do you think?

What’s your take on Vista’s Control Panel? Do you like it as it is? Will you simplify it with the custom Control Panel technique?