How to Control Windows 10: The Settings Guide

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The control panel, one of the most important interfaces in Windows, is being slowly retired. In its place, Microsoft has introduced a successor, a process that began in Windows 8 and continues in Windows 10 with the new Settings app.

You may recall the introduction of the restyled control panel in Windows XP. This offered two views, although most power users quickly switched from the “category” view back to the “classic” option (first seen in Windows 95). Eventually, this was replaced by the control panel interface made popular in Windows 7, and still present in Windows 8.x.

Windows 10 pairs the intuitive new Settings app alongside the Windows 7 control panel, just like Windows 8 did; this time around, however, the requirement to access the desktop app control panel has been greatly reduced, with many more options transferred into the new Settings app.

How to Control Windows 10: The Settings Guide

How to Access Settings and Control Panel

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So where is the new Settings screen? You have several options available to you.

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  • In desktop mode, click Start, and you’ll see Settings in the lower left corner of the menu.
  • If you prefer keyboard shortcuts, WINDOWS + I will open Settings.
  • Should you happen to be in Windows Explorer, select This PC/Computer, and you’ll notice that Settings appears in the ribbon menu.
  • In tablet mode, tap the hamburger icon to expand the left-hand menu, and you’ll find Settings in the lower-left corner.
  • In either mode, you can open the Action Center (by clicking the icon or swiping in from the right) and tap Settings.

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Easily Find Windows 10 Settings

While opening Start and clicking or tapping on Settings is quick (particularly with the keyboard shortcut), you can make the process even slicker. Click Start and right-click Settings, and select Pin to Start or Pin to Taskbar.

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The first option will create a new Start menu tile that can be set to Small and Medium, while the second drops a shortcut icon into the taskbar. Right-clicking these shortcuts will display the option to remove them, should you change your mind.

Getting Started with Settings in Windows 10

You might want to check your printer, configure privacy settings for your device camera or adjust your PC’s regional settings. Whichever tweak you’re looking to make, once you have opened the Settings app, you’ll find a view similar to this:

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Suitable for mouse or touch control, the Settings app groups similar tasks into these nine options. The following screen then lists the various settings you can change down the left side of the window, and tapping each of these will display changes you can make in the right-hand pane.

Let’s take a look at just what the Settings app can do.

Manage Your System

Each button on the Settings app leads to a collection of settings that will change the way your PC works. Start with the System button, where you will find tools to adjust your Display (orientation, text size, etc.).

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See that Advanced display settings link? You’re probably expecting that to offer up a collection of options in the old-style Windows settings box, but you would be wrong – this too has the new user interface.

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Also here you can manage Notifications, and add and remove Modern apps in the Apps & features screen. Meanwhile, the Snap feature, whereby windows are automatically arranged by Windows to use the optimum display space, can be toggled and configured in Multi-tasking, along with Windows 10’s virtual desktop feature.

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If your device is a hybrid that can be used as a tablet, it might be worth spending a moment in the Tablet Mode screen, and configuring touch-friendly mode and other useful options that will make interacting with your touch-screen display far more satisfying.

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For power management and related settings, see the Battery saver and Power & Sleep screens. Battery saver can be activated to kick in at 20%, and limits background activity much like on a phone or tablet. To assist in extending battery life, you can also set up how long the screen stays switched on. For further, granular access to these settings, click Advanced power settings – on this occasion, you will see an old-style Windows screen.

Storage displays how much remaining space you have on your HDD or SSD, and simplifies the process of moving libraries to a new drive or partition by offering a dropdown box for the documents, pictures, music, and videos storage locations to be remapped.

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Offline maps may seem a largely useless feature unless you’re using a tablet, but if you’re concerned about data use (perhaps on a metered connection) then it can prove handy if you plan a lot of journeys using Bing Maps.

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As new apps are installed on your Windows 10 PC or tablet, so your preferred apps for particular tasks will change. The Default apps screen helps to configure which apps are used for which tasks, offering the facility to search the store for an alternative or select one that has already been installed.

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Finally, your PC information can be displayed in About, where you will find the PC’s name, workgroup and the version of Windows it is running, along with the CPU and RAM. This is more or less the same information you would previously have found by right-clicking Computer in Windows Explorer and selecting Properties, and indeed in Windows 10 you can still use this method.

Configure Devices

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Providing everything you need to connect devices from keyboards to external hard disk drives and printers, Devices is perhaps the one part of the Settings app that you’ll access regularly.

Use the Printers & Scanners screen to add corresponding new hardware, and pay attention to the Download over metered connections setting, which will prove useful if an upper limit is set on your data (whether through home Internet or mobile broadband). Note that the links under Related Settings open in old-style Windows boxes.

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Connected Devices oversees the non-printer hardware you have connected already, while Mouse & Touchpad and Typing feature some simple adjustments to make mouse and keyboard use more efficient.

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Finally, Autoplay lets you toggle this feature and set action defaults for removable drives and memory cards. For instance, you can set File Explorer to be opened each time you insert a memory card, or even have the contents played or imported to your computer.

Manage Connectivity in Windows 10

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Network & Internet is one collection of settings that you’ll hopefully rarely need. Flight mode is where it begins, with a simple switch for toggling the connectivity master switch.

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Data usage displays how much data your computer has consumed over the past 30 days, and from what source. Click Usage details to see information on the data your apps are using.

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If you’re using a VPN, set this up by tapping +Add a VPN connection and entering the relevant details. Not sure what a VPN is? You should check out our guide to VPNs, as well as our collection of recommended VPN apps.

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In the unlikely event that you’re using dialup Internet, you can configure your connection in the Dial-up screen, while the Ethernet screen also offers appropriate tools. This section closes with the Proxy tools, provided to enable connection to the Internet via a proxy server.

On the whole, the Network & Internet connectivity tools take their lead from mobile devices, which should make this new approach more accessible.

Windows 10 Personalization Settings

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With Windows 10, you can enjoy a little more customization than was possible in Windows 8.x, thanks to the return of the Start menu. Use the Personalization screen to look at the options, which begin with the Background button, where you can select a new Background picture, either from the provided options or by clicking Browse to find a suitable image on your computer. The background can also be set as a Solid color or even a Slideshow; if you choose this option, you’ll be asked to select an album of images from where the slideshow will be sourced.

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In the Colors tab, accent colors can be selected. If you’ve upgraded from Windows 8, this will be carried over from your previous OS, and the color will be based by default on your background. To set your own color, disable Automatically pick an accent color from my background and choose your preferred color from the grid. Also use this screen to toggle transparency on the Start menu, taskbar, and action center.

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The Lock screen background image can be set as easily as the desktop background, although you can also use this screen to set which Windows 10 app statuses can be displayed on the lock screen. Eight apps can be featured here in total, one of which can give you detailed information.

Configuring the way your computer looks too time-intensive? If so, use the Themes button to browse for a preloaded theme or style, which includes background image and accent color.

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More Start menu/screen (depending up whether you’re using a desktop or tablet) settings are available. Here you can force the most used apps to be displayed, along with recently added apps. You can also Choose which folders appear on Start with what must be the most wasteful use of space in any Windows menu, ever. Keep an eye on the Use Start full screen button, too.

When activated, this reverts your Start menu to the Windows 8.x-style Start screen, complete with an apps list accessible via a button in the bottom left corner. This would seem to be more appropriate for tablet users.

Manage Accounts and Sign-in Options

Accessing your Windows 10 computer requires an account. The main way to do this is to use an existing Windows/Microsoft account, such as Hotmail/Outlook, OneDrive, Office, Xbox Live, etc. – much the same as with Windows 8.x.

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Using a Microsoft account gives you the advantage of online syncing for your Windows 10 settings, which means that you can log in to any Internet connected computer and see the same desktop Start screen layout, background image, and style (other data is also synced, as you’ll see below).

When you first sign into Windows 10 you can choose to use a Microsoft account, or create a local account. If you want a local account later on, you can do this in Accounts > Your account, and select Sign in with a local account instead. Use this screen also to Browse for or create a new profile picture, and add other relevant accounts (other Microsoft logins, or even a workplace or school account).

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Windows 10 supports standard text and numerical string passwords, PIN numbers, and Picture passwords (where an image is displayed and you draw upon it). Each of these can be configured in Sign-in options. A PIN is recommended for tablet use.

Work access is provided as an option to connect to shared workplace, school, or organization resources, and you’ll need your relevant credentials to sign in via the +Connect button.

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For family computers, the Family & other users screen enables you to manage who can and cannot use your Windows 10 computer.

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The +Add a family member screen enables you to add children or adults, but each user will require a Microsoft account to be created on their behalf (unless they have one already). The Setup Assigned Access link is provided to limit app access for additional accounts.

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As mentioned above, the benefit of logging into Windows 10 with a Microsoft account is to sync profile and browser settings, and the full extent of synced data types can be reviewed and toggled in Sync your settings.

Time & Language Settings

Wherever you are in the world, Windows 10’s Time & Language settings screen can be used to configure the correct regional options should they be inaccurate.

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In Date & time, you can set automatic, server-provided time or disable the Set time automatically option and set a manual clock. The Time zone and daylight saving time can also be configured, while time and date formats can be reviewed, and, if necessary, adjusted.

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To get the benefit of regional content and the correct language, the Region & language screen features settings to change your location and add a new default display language. Use the Additional date, time & regional settings link to go further in depth (into a classic Windows box).

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The Speech box offers a collection of tools to manage your speech language, text-to-speech voice and speed, and microphone setup. If you’re already using Cortana in Windows 10 then you should have your mic already configured.

Ease of Access in Windows 10

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Accessibility on Windows isn’t just about providing the tools for disabled people to use a computer. While the provision of a narrator, magnifier, high-contrast display options, and closed captioning is vital for less able-bodied people, via the Ease of Access screen, these features can also be employed by the able bodied. For instance, Narrator can be used to help small children get to grips with a computer.

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Magnifier, meanwhile, can be employed if you’re using the computer with a display that, for reasons unknown, is situated some way from you. On the other hand, High contrast is clearly an advantage for those with poor sight, as are the Closed Captions settings (default options for the deaf can be unreadable against certain backgrounds).

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Again, Keyboard accessibility options aren’t just for the disabled. The On-Screen Keyboard can prove useful in situations when the standard tablet keyboard doesn’t fulfill its purpose.

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Meanwhile, if you’re having difficulty tracking the location of your mouse pointer, the Mouse settings give you improved size and color, as well as some options to improve use of the keyboard’s numeric keypad as a substitute mouse.

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Some Other options are also provided, such as toggling animations and the Windows background, the length of time notifications should be displayed, and even the thickness of the cursor!

Windows 10 Native Privacy Settings

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As befits an operating system that is arguably more invasive than any previous iteration, Microsoft has equipped Windows 10 with a comprehensive collection of Privacy options.

These begin with the General tab, where you can configure privacy options (you can disable in-app ad tracking by switching the first option to Off), while further settings can be adjusted by opening the Manage my Microsoft advertising and other personalization info link.

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Location settings can prove useful for certain apps, but also present a security risk. This screen enables you to disable location tracking and delete your location history; you can also determine which apps you want to allow to use your location.

Camera and Microphone settings app screens display the apps that can use those tools, which you can disable as needed. You can also block apps from accessing both peripherals should you need to.

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You should have already met Cortana, and if so Windows 10’s “Getting to know you” service in Speech, inking & typing is used to manage information like contacts, calendar events, and even speech, handwriting, and typing history. This can be disabled (Stop getting to know me), but note that doing so will also disable Cortana.

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Apps can access data about you and your contacts. If this is something you’re happy with, then that’s fine, but if you wish to prevent this type of data from being shared, use the Account info and Contacts screens to disable it.

App access to your Calendar and Messaging (text or MMS) can also be disabled. Given how we’ve seen Android apps breaching user privacy over the years, it seems likely that a similar attack vector will be attempted in Windows 10. On a similar point, if you want to block apps from accessing Bluetooth automatically and without your knowledge, switch off the Let apps control radios setting in Radios.

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NFC and other wireless devices that don’t securely pair with your phone are particular privacy and security risks. Such devices might be iBeacons (think adverts targeted at individuals in Minority Report) or contactless payment systems. You can disable this functionality in Other devices, where you’ll also see a list of other hardware with access to your apps.

Do you want to give Microsoft feedback? What about diagnostic information when your PC and apps are not working correctly? Feedback & diagnostics simply determines whether you want information sent to Microsoft.

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The final section in the Privacy screen on the Windows 10 settings app is Background apps. Here you can enable and disable the apps that you’re happy to have running in the background. Some may be more useful than others, but of course this depends entirely on how you use Windows…

Update and Recovery

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Windows Update is vital to the concept of Windows as a Service, and you can access Windows Update via the Update & Security screen. Here, you can check for new updates, check the restart schedule, and check the Advanced options to configure how updates are installed (whether automatic or manual, for example). Here you can click Restart now to install any pending updates, or adjust the schedule to suit.

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Next is the Windows Defender screen. Microsoft’s own malware defense tool is becoming increasingly important to Windows (not before time!) and this is one of the few times when you should leave communication between your Windows 10 PC and Microsoft active.

As well as real-time protection, Windows Defender provides cloud-based protection, which basically means that issues are compared with problems stored in the Microsoft cloud. Windows Defender can scan your PC for problems, but occasionally you may wish to exclude certain files. Use the Add an exclusion link to manage this. Our recent look at Windows Defender provides additional information to this section.

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For the first time, Windows 10 includes a simple, usable Backup solution. Get started with this by clicking Add a drive. Similarly, Recovery can be used to revert to a previous state in Windows 10. Our guide to resetting and recovering Windows 10 offers far more information on these features than can be included here.

Is Windows 10 activated? Check in the Activation screen, and if you upgrade your Windows 10 version, use the Change product key button to register the upgrade.

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Finally, some users may see the For developers screen. This is purely for developers, and Don’t use developer features is best left selected. Developers will know what Sideload apps and Developer mode can do (in short, if you’re not developing apps, enabling these settings is a security risk).

Whither Control Panel?

Should you need a deeper level of system adjustment, the old control panel remains in Windows 10’s initial release (although its days are almost certainly numbered). To open the old-style control panel, click Start and use search/Cortana to enter the term “control panel”. (You might also press WINDOWS+R, type “control panel” and click OK.)

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You should immediately see the control panel result at the top of the list, where it is described as a “Desktop app”. Tap this to open, and you’ll see the traditional control panel view first introduced in Windows Vista, a more useful iteration of the earlier “category view” control panel in XP. Anything you cannot yet configure with the Settings app, you should be able to do here. If it seems too complicated, we recently demystified the control panel, just to make it simpler for you.

What do you think of the Settings app? Does it work for you, or would you prefer it if Windows left a perfectly good interface alone? Tell us in the comments.

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