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Yes, Windows Is Dumb: Control Panel tricks, Part 1

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

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Excerpted from
Yes, Windows Is Dumb
Easy Ways to Master Your PC
Copyright © 1997, Al Fasoldt


Control Panel tricks, Part 1 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, Al Fasoldt

Like so much in real life, the Control Panel in Windows isn't what it seems. It looks like a folder, but it's not a folder at all. Open My Computer and there's the Control Panel folder, ready to be opened. Or click on the Start button and choose Settings and you'll see the Control Panel icon, and clicking it opens what seems to be a folder of Control Panel applets.

Uh-uh, that's not a folder. Look for it anywhere on your hard drive and you'll find zippo. The Control Panel is a fake folder, a virtual folder. Windows creates the appearance of a real folder when you click the Control Panel icon. In a way, this is Windows at its worst: How can you get rid of one of those pesky, why-did-I-ever-install-this-thing Control Panel applets if it lives in a virtual world? You've got to be a wizard to figure it out. (Yes, you can get rid of them. I'll tell you how later.) In another way, it's Windows at its best: Rather than forcing you to deal with programs and applications and shortcuts and folders, Windows creates what seems to be a folder holding all the keys to adjusting and tweaking and fixing the way the operating system behaves. They're all in one place—one virtual place, to be sure.

Your first clue that the Control Panel wasn't a real folder probably nudged your brain when you tried to delete one of the icons, or when you tried to copy or move one of them into another folder. If you're playing around inside the Control Panel, you can't delete a member in good standing. Nor can you delete a member in bad standing, of course. You just can't delete any of the icons. And if you try to move one of them out, Windows firmly informs you that the only option is to create a shortcut. No copy, no move. Do not pass Go and do not collect $200.

So the first thing you need to know is that those applets in the Control Panel represent files that are stored in the System folder in your main Windows folder. (Chances are your Windows folder is called "Windows," as in "C:\Windows," but some PCs use "Win95" or "Win" or something else. It doesn't matter what the name of the main folder is; it will have a System folder inside it.) These Control Panel files all have ".CPL"—Control PaneL—as their filename extension. (The extension is the part of the name that follows the period.) Use the Find function to look for .cpl files and you'll see quite a few listed in the System folder.

Most of the names of these .cpl files make sense. You'll see, for example, one that is named "Modem," one named "Desk" and another named "Timedate." (You probably won't see the .cpl extensions within the Find window.) There are many others, some with whimsical names ("Appwiz") and others with names only a programmer could figure out ("Mmsys" and "Mlcfg32"). Don't be surprised if you count the number of icons in your Control Panel and find you have more Control Panel applets than you have .cpl files in the System folder. That happens when a .cpl applet performs more than one task.

Now for the easy tricks.

Do you have to open the Control Panel each time you want to adjust one of the settings in Windows? Not at all. Just as Windows suggests when you try to drag one of the icons out of the Control Panel, you can create shortcuts to any of the Control Panel applets anywhere on your PC.

Here's an example: Drag the Themes applet out of the Control Panel and drop it onto your Start button. Windows will create a shortcut to the Desktop Themes Control Panel applet in the top level of the Start Menu. Here's another example: Drag the Modem applet out of the Control Panel and drop it on your Desktop. Windows gives you only one real choice—a shortcut or cancel. Choose the shortcut and you'll have a quick way of getting at your modem settings, right on the Desktop.

You can also go to all the trouble of digging into the System folder and double clicking directly on the .cpl files, too, of course. Some books on Windows make a big point of this—wow, just think, you can actually run the Control Panel applets by clicking on them!—but that's never a good idea unless you like to live dangerously. Having the actual .cpl file a click away from deletion is Not Bright. Use a shortcut instead; at some point, when you've accidentally erased one of the .cpl shortcuts, you'll be glad you followed my advice.

(If you're not able to get .cpl files to do anything when you click on their shortcuts or directly on them, Windows may not be set up to know how to deal with .cpl applets when they are not gathered into the Control Panel. Here's how to fix that problem: Open an Explorer window, choose Options, then File Types. Look for an entry named "Control Panel Extension." If you don't se that, look for "cpl file" or something similar. If you find no sign of either entry, you need to create one. Click "New Type…" and enter "Control Panel Extension" in the "Description of type" field and ".cpl" in the "Associated extension" field—without using the quotation marks. Under "Actions" click "New…" and type "Open with Control Panel"— without the quotes—in the "Action:" entry line. In the field named "Application used to perform action:" enter this precise string of characters: C:\WINDOWS\rundll32.exe shell32.dll,Control_RunDLL %1,%* Then click "OK." Note that there is no space between the comma after "shell32.dll" and the word "Control.")

There's a much fancier way of working with these separate applets, which I'll tell you about in Part 2. But I need to make good on a promise first. I told you I'd explain how to get rid of Control Panel icons (and, of course, their applets) that you genuinely don't need any more. I'm emphasizing genuinely because you should never delete any of the standard Control Panel applets, even if you aren't using them. The only ones you should consider getting rid of are applets that third-party developers added to your Windows setup when you installed a program or a piece of hardware that is no longer being used. (A good example is a specialized mouse applet that was on your system in the Windows 3.1 days. The old mouse control method may not work under the newer version of Windows or may be superfluous, so you'd definitely want to get rid of the icon.)

Here's how. Find a file called "Control.ini" and open it in Notepad or any other text editor, making sure you have word wrap turned off. (You can also open it in an INI file editor, if you have one. If you don't know how to locate a file by name, open the Start Menu, choose Find, type "control.ini" without the quotation marks and press Enter. Windows will show it in the Find window. Drag the icon for the file to a text editor's icon or window.) At the top, you should see a line all by itself that reads "[don't load]." If you don't see that line, add it yourself at the very top, exactly this way:

[don't load]

Underneath that line, type the name of the Control Panel applet you don't want to be loaded, followed by an equal sign and the word "no." Here is now it would look if you wanted Windows to stop loading a Control Panel applet named "mouser.cpl":

[don't load]


Save the file and restart Windows. (Reboot if you don't know how to restart Windows.) When your computer comes back to life, the Control Panel will be missing the applet you told Windows to stop loading. You can stop there—a good idea if you ever want to use that applet again, because you can simply remove that line from "Control.ini"—or you can now take the final step and delete "mouser.cpl" from your hard drive. I'd suggest a less radical approach: Move the applet out of the System folder and store it somewhere else, out of the Windows folder entirely. If you ever need it, you can move it back easily.

Next: Tricks just about nobody else knows about.

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