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Back to basics: a Windows XP refresher guide

The Control Panel and beyond
Take a tour of the other key areas of Windows XP, including the Search Companion and Control Panel

FEATURE INDEX
Introduction
A quick introduction to Windows XP
Click here to view

The Desktop
Get to grips with XP's user interface
Click here to view

The Taskbar
Take the Windows XP taskbar for a spin
Click here to view

Files and folders
Learn to use these essential filing tools
Click here to view

Control Panel
Change the most important options in Windows XP
Click here to view

More help and links
Find some more help and tutorials
Click here to view

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W
hen it comes to customising or tweaking your system there's no better place to start than the Control Panel. This is a collection of tools that enable you to do all sorts of things with your PC from adjusting display settings to removing unwanted programs from your computer.
 
   There are over 30 Control Panels to choose from - and those are just Windows' own. Some hardware devices and programs add their own custom Control Panels, but for the purposes of this feature we're going to concentrate on the key utilities found in all versions of XP.
 
Accessing the Control Panel
There are two ways to access the Control Panel. If you've just installed XP then click Start and select Control Panel to see a window inviting you to pick a category. 10 are provided, covering all aspects of using your PC. Choose one and you'll see the Control Panel split into two sections: actual Control Panels like Display and System are listed at the bottom of the screen, while specific tasks like "Change the desktop background" are listed at the top - these are shortcuts to specific parts of individual Control Panels.
 
   When it comes to customising or setting up Windows, it pays to go through each category in turn - they're all self-explanatory and you'll save time later on by setting things up properly now. Once you become more familiar with the Control Panel you may find the Category view restrictive, in which case click Switch to Classic View to view the Control Panels as a single list. Better still, follow our tip here to turn the Control Panel link on the Start menu into a drop-down menu, giving you quick and easy access to any Control Panel you choose.
 
Essential tweaks
If you don't want to waste much time with the Control Panel right now, just follow our advice for quickly setting up your system. We've already covered the three Control Panels (Display, Folder Options and Taskbar and Start menu) that make up Appearance and Themes so skip that category for starters.
 
   If you're not yet connected to the Internet or a network - wireless or otherwise - then use the Network and Internet Connections category. Use the tasks to launch wizards that will step you through the process of setting up these connections; in the case of your Internet connection you may wish to use the CD supplied by your Internet Service Provider instead - it should have all the instructions you need.
 
   If more than one person uses your PC, select User Accounts and create a separate user profile for them. A user profile is an individual set of personal preferences, document folders and other settings (including your own customised desktop, Start menu and taskbar). If you share your PC, it's the only practical way of doing so to avoid confusion and conflict - you can find out more about user accounts by viewing the box below.
 
   Should you ever need to remove or repair a program, choose Add or Remove Programs to access the list of programs installed on your PC - select the program in question and click the appropriate button: Repair, Change or Remove.

Setting up new users


Performance and maintenance
A key area of the Control Panel is the Performance and Maintenance category. This area of the Control Panel is worth returning to every couple of months or so to run the Disk Cleanup tool and select Rearrange items on your hard drive to make programs run faster to combat a program known as fragmentation.
 
   If you run into problems installing a new device attached to your computer then you need the System Control Panel, accessible from here. Open it and switch to the Hardware tab, then click Device Manager. The problematic device should be highlighted with a yellow exclamation mark - double-click it and you should see advice or a button that will hopefully help you fix the problem.
 
   The final category you should visit is the Security Center. Make sure you have a firewall and anti-virus software installed, and switch on Automatic Updates so Windows can download the updates required to keep it bug-free and secure. For more advice on these and other aspects of your system, use the More help and links section of this feature.


Step-by-step: Find files on your PC with the Search Companion


1. WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?


2. MEDIA FILES OR DOCUMENTS


3. ALL FILES AND FOLDERS


4. SEARCH BY LOCATION


5. ADVANCED OPTIONS


6. REVIEW THE RESULTS



Beyond the Control Panel
You'll find shortcuts to key tools by clicking Start > All Programs > Accessories - most will be found in the System Tools section. One such tool is System Restore, which lets you take snapshots of your system and restore your PC to an earlier point in time should you run into problems. Tweak its settings from the System Restore tab on the System Control Panel.
 
   Your introduction to Windows XP is complete. By following the tips and techniques outlined here you're now in a position to start using your PC in confidence. The basics are in place, and as you get to know XP better you'll discover even more exciting and useful secrets waiting for you. What's more, you'll be able to read about them on this very site, so join us and learn more about getting the most out of your PC with the help of our Tutorials section.






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