Windows 10’s Settings Are a Mess, and Microsoft Doesn’t Seem to Care

It’s been over four years since Microsoft first released the PC Settings interface with Windows 8, but the Control Panel and Settings app are still a confusing, split experience. There still isn’t a single interface, as there is on other operating systems, and Microsoft is seriously dragging their feet on consolidating them.

Microsoft told us that Windows 10 would continue to include the Control Panel “until the Settings app is developed with the complete settings options needed to support all Windows devices.” But Microsoft seems content to slowly move over a few settings every year rather than finish the job now—or, you know, before Windows 10 was released.

Settings Remain Scattered Across Two (or More) Interfaces

If you’ve used Windows 10, you’re probably already familiar with the problem. Windows 10 has a new Settings interface you can get to by clicking Start > Settings, as well as the old Control Panel you can get to by right-clicking the Start button and selecting “Control Panel”.

“We implemented the Settings app in Windows 10 in order to create a single universal settings experience across all Windows devices, including modern tablets and touch-capable displays”, Microsoft told us. But this isn’t completely true. The Settings application is really just a polished replacement for the PC Settings application Microsoft introduced with Windows 8.

More importantly: some settings are still only available in the old Control Panel interface, while others are only available in the new Settings interface.

In other cases, one will even direct you to the other. For example, you need to visit the Settings application to add a new user account or configure many settings for your current account. If you visit the User Accounts pane in the Control Panel, it will just send you to the Settings interface.

You can’t do everything from the Settings interface, however. The Settings interface will display your user account as either an “Administrator” or “Standard” user account, for example. Want to change your account type? It’ll send you back to the Control Panel to make the change there.

You can change another user account’s account type and select Administrator or Standard from Settings > Accounts > Family & other people, but there’s no way to change your current Windows user account’s privileges without visiting the Control Panel…for some reason.

Many other advanced user account settings, including User Account Control options, are only available in the Control Panel.

Moreover, some settings are available in neither interface! Want to disable the system-wide Game Bar and Game DVR features for recording your PC gameplay? You won’t find these settings in either system-wide settings app. You’ll have to open the “Xbox” app included with Windows 10 and sign in with a Microsoft account, even if you don’t use a Microsoft account, to access these settings.

Thankfully, Microsoft will fix this problem in the forthcoming Creators Update and move these settings to the main Settings application, where they belong. But why was it even that way in the first place? And why did it take two years for them to move it to the place where it made sense?

Some New Features Are Only Available in The Control Panel…

You never know what you’ll find in one interface or another. Even some features that were introduced in Windows 8, when Microsoft added the new Settings interface, are only available in the Control Panel in Windows 10.

For example, Microsoft added File History backups to Windows 8, and this feature is still around in Windows 10. File History replaced the old Backup and Restore feature in Windows 7. You might assume that you can configure and use this new feature entirely from the Settings app, but you can’t. Instead, you’ll find links that take you to the File History pane in the Control Panel, where the real settings are available.

Similarly, SmartScreen was a new security feature in Windows 8 that checks your downloads for malware, but you won’t find its settings in the Settings application. SmartScreen can only be enabled or disabled from the Security & Maintenance pane in the Control Panel.

The Settings app allows you to choose whether the SmartScreen filter is used to check web addresses that “Windows Store apps” use, but that’s it.

…and Some Old Features Are Only Available in Settings

It sort of makes sense for system features like File History and SmartScreen to be available in the Control Panel (if you try really hard to make it make sense). But other system options have been removed from the Control Panel and moved exclusively to the Settings application, even though Control Panel still exists.

For example, the old Windows Update configuration tool is gone from the Control Panel. You have to configure Windows Update from the Settings app.

You need to visit the Settings app to delete a saved Wi-Fi network, too. That pane was also removed from the Control Panel.

Other features, like the list of installed software applications where you can uninstall installed applications, are duplicated in both interfaces. There’s no apparent rhyme or reason to which features are in only Settings, which are only in Control Panel, and which are in both.

Search Is Confusing

Don’t get us started on search, either. Perform a search in the Settings application on Windows 10 and you’ll see links to configuration panels in both the Settings application and Control Panel. This is a good thing. It’s a big improvement from Windows 8, where the PC Settings application pretended the Control Panel didn’t exist.

But search from the Control Panel and you’ll have a problem. When you search in the Control Panel, you won’t see links to settings in the Settings interface. For example, search “Windows Update” in the Control Panel and you won’t see any relevant results.

Windows 10 won’t even point you in the right direction if you try searching for a setting that no longer exists in the Control Panel. If you’re used to finding Windows Update settings in the Control Panel, this is unnecessarily confusing. The search interface in the Control Panel could at least contain links to the Settings application.

This Is Still a Problem on Touch Screens

When a setting is only available in the Control Panel, it’s much more difficult to configure the setting on a touch screen. Years after Microsoft called touch the future of Windows with Windows 8, it’s still not possible to configure many system settings in a touch-friendly way.

Microsoft placed a band-aid over the problem by providing links that open old Control Panel interfaces after you click a few links deep in the Settings application, but these links aren’t an ideal solution. These old control panels are obnoxious to use with your finger on a touch screen and are inconsistent with the rest of the Settings interface.

Hurry Up, Microsoft

Microsoft is adding more settings to the Settings interface with each major update to Windows 10. But they’re just slowly picking away at them. It’s been over four and a half years since Windows 8 was released, and Microsoft isn’t even close to finishing the job. Why wasn’t this done for the launch of Windows 10?

This shouldn’t be extremely hard. Many of the options in the Control Panel are just graphical switches for a registry change. It should be fairly easy to add an interface to the Settings application that allows you to flip any one of these. Sure, that’s more work for Microsoft than it sounds—but this is one of the biggest companies in the world, with over 120,000 employees, and they haven’t cared to consolidate settings under one interface like other operating systems do. Microsoft has had the development time to do a much better job than this.

To be fair, getting rid of the Control Panel is tough. Even if Microsoft moves every last setting to the Settings interface tomorrow, the Control Panel couldn’t be completely removed. Hardware drivers for tools like mice and printers often add additional configuration panels to the Control Panel interface, for example. Windows would need to contain the old Control Panel interface for compatibility reasons. Microsoft could make it possible for device manufacturers to extend the new Settings interface with options for mice and other hardware peripherals, but they haven’t yet done so. That might take more work.

But the least they could do is consolidate their built-in settings under one window, instead of giving users this confusing mess.

When Windows 8 was released with two separate settings interfaces, we expected Microsoft to merge them by the next version of Windows—not keep two separate settings interfaces for the foreseeable future. This should have been resolved at the launch of Windows 10. If Microsoft doesn’t start making faster progress here, we’ll still have two confusing settings interfaces on Windows a decade from now. You’d think Microsoft, who’s trying to appeal to everyday users, would want to fix that a little faster.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.