Microsoft Might Kill the Classic Control Panel Soon, Will Hopefully Fix Settings First [Updated]
Update (3/28/2020): More information has come to light on the specifics of what MS is changing. As of this writing, only the “System” applet appears to be impacted. As Jim Salter points out at Ars Technica, however, there are definitely still some functions that MS needs to move over to Settings before it sunsets the System applet out of CP. Clearly Microsoft has more work to do before it can kill off the old-fashioned standard. Original story below:
Ever since Windows 8, Microsoft has shipped two methods of changing system settings. In the beginning, the new Settings menu was a joke. Over the last eight years, it’s slowly become more functional and has subsumed more of Control Panel’s capabilities. According to Windows Central, that could be about to change.
There are Feature IDs in the latest build of Windows 10 that would replace or redirect current Control Panel traffic back to the Settings application. Windows Central writes:
These feature IDs are HideSystemControlPanel, SystemControlPanelFileExplorerRedirect, and SystemControlPanelHotkeyRedirect. All these feature IDs are disabled in the latest public builds, but they do exist, suggesting that Microsoft is testing it internally.
This isn’t going to be a near-term change — Windows Central thinks it’d be H1 2021 at the earliest, and that was before Covid-19 screwed up everyone’s everything. The question of whether Settings is good enough to get rid of Control Panel is an interesting one. Familiarity bias means that we’re likely to be predisposed towards using CP over the newer Settings app, but how much do we still need the OG version?
The short answer: Yes.
The longer answer: Yes, right now, but not if Microsoft puts some work into migrating current Control-Panel-only functions.
There are still some places in the Settings menu where changing low-level settings under the hood requires you to open the Control Panel-equivalent screen. The Power menu under Settings gives you the basics right up front:
Choose “Additional Power Settings” and the OS opens the Control Panel “Power Settings” page for you. There are a number of functions that aren’t mapped to Settings yet, including reprogramming what buttons do and fine-tuning the OS’ various power-saving measurements.
One possibility is that Microsoft would remove Control Panel without removing any of its secondary windows or reskinning them to match Windows 10. There’s no reason Microsoft couldn’t remove the Control Panel interface and relocate “Administrative Tools” to a link inside the existing Settings tool.
I can’t claim to have performed some kind of exhaustive survey of Microsoft’s UI implementation, but one thing I’ve noticed in the past is that Microsoft has kept its more data-dense UI elements in the older-style Windows format while the Settings page is reserved for simpler options and presentation. Redesigning everything Control Panel accesses to follow this formula is probably a non-starter. There are some places where data needs to be presented densely to be handled in reasonable fashion:
The Display page already shows some data on how this might go. You can access the ‘Advanced’ sections, which keep their old-style formatting, but you don’t need to open the actual “Display” section of Control Panel to do it — you can use the Settings page to access this menu.
My guess is that Microsoft will continue slowly moving functionality over to Settings, but that we’ll see “old style” Windows UI elements for a while yet — possibly forever, for settings buried deep under the hood. As for whether this will be a net improvement for Windows, I think moving back to a unified system in which all controls are found under the same app would be an improvement at this point. During the Windows 8 era, you could ignore Settings in almost all cases. Now with Windows 10, there’s a split between Control Panel and Settings. Better to move things over to Settings, intelligently, rather than require people to shuffle forever between the two.