How to Change the Default Control Panel View in Windows

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By default, the Windows Control Panel defaults to the last view you used—Category, Large Icons, or Small Icons. If you prefer, you can make it always open to a particular view using a quick Registry or Group Policy hack.

RELATED: How to Access the Old Control Panel in Windows 10 or Windows 8.x

While Windows 8 and 10 brought new interfaces for most of your settings, the venerable Control Panel is still alive and well. The very first time you open Control Panel after a Windows installation, it defaults to a Category view, where the Control Panel apps themselves are mostly hidden and actions are broken down into categories. You can switch to an icon view that shows all the Control Panel apps and when you open the Control Panel window again in the future, Windows will remember the last view and open with that. That’s probably fine for most people. But what if you prefer that it always open to a particular view—category or icons—no matter the last view you used? Well, you can make that happen.

Home Users: Set the Default Control Panel View by Editing the Registry

If you have a Windows Home edition, you will have to edit the Windows Registry to make these changes. You can also do it this way if you have Windows Pro or Enterprise, but feel more comfortable working in the Registry than Local Group Policy Editor. (If you have Pro or Enterprise, though, we recommend using the easier Local Group Policy Editor, as described in the next section.)

Standard warning: Registry Editor is a powerful tool and misusing it can render your system unstable or even inoperable. This is a pretty simple hack and as long as you stick to the instructions, you shouldn’t have any problems. That said, if you’ve never worked with it before, consider reading about how to use the Registry Editor before you get started. And definitely back up the Registry (and your computer!) before making changes.

To get started, open the Registry Editor by hitting Start and typing “regedit.” Press Enter to open Registry Editor and give it permission to make changes to your PC.

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In the Registry Editor, use the left sidebar to navigate to the following key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer\

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Next, create a new value inside the Explorer key. Right-click the Explorer key and choose New > DWORD (32-bit) Value. Name the new value “ForceClassicControlPanel.”

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There are technically three states you can use to control the default Control Panel View:

  • If the ForceClassicControlPanel value does not exist at all, Control Panel follows the regular Windows default of opening to the last view you used.
  • If the ForceClassicControlPanel  value is set to 0, Control Panel will always open to the category view.
  • If the ForceClassicControlPanel  value is set to 1, Control Panel will always open to the icon view. It will show large or small icons depending on how you left the window the last time you used it.

Double-click the ForceClassicControlPanel  value to open its properties window. Change the value in the “Value data” box to 0 or 1, depending on your preference, and then click “OK.”

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You can now close Registry Editor. Changes are immediate, so go play with the Control Panel window a bit and see if it’s working the way you want. And if you want to revert to the default Windows behavior where Control Panel opens to the last view used, just go back into Registry Editor and delete the ForceClassicControlPanel value.

Download Our One-Click Registry Hacks

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If you don’t feel like diving into the Registry yourself, we’ve created two downloadable registry hacks you can use. One hack forces the Control Panel to open to category view, one forces it to open to icon view, and the third restores the default where Control Panel opens to the last view you used. All three are included in the following ZIP file. Double-click the one you want to use and click through the prompts.

Control Panel View Hacks

RELATED: How to Make Your Own Windows Registry Hacks

These hacks are really just the Explorer key, stripped down to the ForceClassicControlPanel value we described above, and then exported to a .REG file. Running either of the “Force a view” hacks creates that value and sets it to the appropriate number. The “restore” hack deletes the ForceClassicControlPanel value, restoring default Windows behavior. And if you enjoy fiddling with the Registry, it’s worth taking the time to learn how to make your own Registry hacks.

Pro and Enterprise Users: Set the Default Control Panel View with the Local Group Policy Editor

RELATED: Using Group Policy Editor to Tweak Your PC

If you’re using Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise, the easiest way to set the default Control Panel view is by using the Local Group Policy Editor. It’s a pretty powerful tool, so if you’ve never used it before, it’s worth taking some time to learn what it can do. Also, if you’re on a company network, do everyone a favor and check with your admin first. If your work computer is part of a domain, it’s also likely that it’s part of a domain group policy that will supersede the local group policy, anyway.

In Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise, hit Start, type “gpedit.msc,” and then press Enter.

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In the Local Group Policy Editor, in the left-hand pane, drill down to User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Control Panel. On the right, find the “Always open All Control Panel Items when opening Control Panel” setting and double-click it.

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In the properties window that opens, you can configure things one of three ways:

  • Select the “Not Configured” option to allow the default behavior where Control Panel always opens to the last view you used.
  • Select the “Enabled” option to force Control Panel to open with the icon view. It will open to large or small icons based on whatever you used the last time you opened Control Panel.
  • Select the “Disabled” option to force Control Panel to  open with the category view.

After you’ve made your selection, click “OK.”

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You can now exit the Local Group Policy Editor. Changes are immediate, so there’s no need to restart your PC. Just go test things by opening Control Panel a few times and changing the views around. If at any time you want to revert to the default behavior, just follow the same procedure and set that option back to “Not Configured.”

Walter Glenn is a long time computer geek and tech writer. Though he's mostly a Windows and gadget guy, he has a fondness for anything tech. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.