The Control Panel - How to Switch Between the Classic & Category Views

The Control Panel is one the most used features in Windows and for good reason. With each new version of Windows, it was expanded to include more tools and configuration items. Also, many usability improvements were made. However, there are quite a few users who love the classic way of viewing Control Panel items that was used in the old Windows XP. If you are one of those users, here are all the ways to switch between the different Control Panel views available in Windows 7 and Windows 8.

The Control Panel in Windows XP vs Windows 7 vs Windows 8

In Windows XP, the classic view of the Control Panel displays a long list of configuration items. Because the Search feature is absent, finding your way means a lot of guessing and clicking.

The Category View in Windows XP isn’t a lot better either. The lack of Search is again a problem. There’s simply too much clicking involved.

Windows Vista and, later on, Windows 7 and Windows 8 have delivered a better Control Panel. First of all, the Category View is improved. For each category of items, you can see several subitems for some of the most common tasks performed by users.

Clicking on a category opens a list with sub-categories and shortcuts to other commonly performed tasks.

Windows 8 delivers a Control Panel that is similar to the one in Windows 7, but with a few minor improvements that make the experience of using it even better. Below, you can see how it looks.

If you pay attention to the top toolbar, you will notice the addition of the Up button, which makes it even easier to navigate the Control Panel.

Then, both in Windows 7 and Windows 8, you have the Search box on the top right. Start typing and the Control Panel automatically displays the relevant shortcuts.

Search tremendously speeds up the process of finding you way through all the tasks, tools and configuration options.

How to Switch to the Classic Windows XP view in the New Control Panel

Even though the Control Panel included in Windows 7 and Windows 8 is much better, many users are so used to the classic list view from Windows XP that they want it back.

Fortunately for them, both Windows 7 and Windows 8 provide quick methods for viewing Control Panel items that way.

On the right side of the Control Panel, there is a "View by" drop-down list with several values available for selection. Click or tap the arrow near it and select how you want to view Control Panel. Category is the default view in Windows 7 and Windows 8.

Selecting "Large icons" or "Small icons" is the equivalent of the classic list item view from Windows XP.

"Large icons" will obviously use larger icons for all the items in the Control Panel.

"Small icons" will obviously use smaller icons for all the items. When using small icons, you have to scroll less to browse through everything.

An alternative method for switching between the classic list item view and the default category view is to open the Control Panel and press the ALT key on your keyboard.

A hidden menu shows up. Go to "View -> Go To" and select "All Control Panel Items".

The classic Windows XP list item view is now used by the Control Panel in Windows 7 or Windows 8.

Last but not least, you have the Down arrow on the top, near the Back and Forward buttons. Pressing it reveals the recent locations you accessed.

If you recently switched between views, you can use it to quickly access All Control Panel Items and get back to the classic list item view used in Windows XP.


Personally, I don’t like Windows XP. I consider it dated, insecure and less friendly to use than Windows 7 and Windows 8. Even though the newer versions of Windows bring many improvements to the Control Panel, some users want to stick to the old ways of doing things. Hopefully they will find this guide useful.