The Windows 10 Universal Settings App

By Woody Leonhard

The Universal Settings app in Windows 10 (refer to Figure 1-2) is a remarkable collection of settings, arranged in a way that’s infinitely more accessible — but arguably less logical — than the old-fashioned desktop Control Panel.

The new Universal Settings app looks inviting, but it doesn't have all the settings.

The new Universal Settings app looks inviting, but it doesn’t have all the settings.

Click Start, Settings, and you see these options:

  • System: This includes settings for changing the display and control notifications, analyzing your apps’ usage, controlling Snap and multiple desktops, moving in and out of Tablet Mode, kicking in Battery Saver, controlling how long the screen stays active when not in use, analyzing how much storage space is being used, handling downloaded maps, assigning apps to specific filename extensions, and looking at your PC’s name and ID.

    In the Apps & features pane, you can move apps from one drive to another; in Storage (shown here), you can tell Windows where to store certain kinds of files. There are also links to the Control Panel applets for admin tools, Bitlocker, Device Manager, and Sysinfo.

    System's Storage pane lets you specify where to put new files.

    System’s Storage pane lets you specify where to put new files.
  • Devices: From here, you can control printers, scanners, and other connected devices; turn Bluetooth on and off; change mouse settings (with a link to the Control Panel app for mice); turn on and off autocorrect and text suggestions; manipulate the pen; and specify what AutoPlay program should kick in when you insert a drive or card.

  • Network & Internet: This lets you turn Wi-Fi off and on, and change your connection, with lots of links to the Control Panel; join or leave a Homegroup (through the Control Panel); set up the Windows Firewall (again through Control Panel); go into Airplane mode, thus turning off both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections; track how much data has been sent and received in the past month, by app; set up a VPN; work with a dial-up connection; and manually set a Proxy.

  • Personalization: This catch-all category includes setting your wallpaper (background), choosing accent colors, putting a picture on your lock screen, and controlling the Start menu. There’s a link to a Control Panel applet to let you apply desktop themes.

  • Accounts: This lets you disconnect a Microsoft account, set your account picture, and change information about your account with Microsoft’s account database in the sky. Find options that enable you to add a new standard user (you have to use the Control Panel to change a standard account into an administrator account), change your password or switch to a picture or PIN password, or switch between a Microsoft account and a local account.

    You can sync your settings among multiple computers that use your logon (see the following figure). There’s also a section that helps you connect to a domain (typically a company or organization network) or Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory in the cloud.

    Control exactly what gets synced among computers using your Microsoft account.

    Control exactly what gets synced among computers using your Microsoft account.
  • Time & language: Set your time zone, manually change the date and time, set date and time formats, add keyboards in different languages, control how Windows uses speech and spoken languages, and set up your microphone for speech recognition.

  • Ease of Access: Microsoft has long had commendable aids for people who need help seeing, hearing, or working with Windows. All the settings are here.

  • Privacy: A grandstanding set of settings, with an on/off switch for Cortana and links to Bing’s data collection site. You can block app access to your name and picture, turn on and off location tracking, and keep your webcam and microphone locked up. You can also control beacons and other sync proclivities, including giving Windows permission to send your “full health, performance, and diagnostics” information to Microsoft.

  • Update & Security: This is an abbreviated form of the Automatic Update settings found in the Control Panel. You can turn File History on and off from this location. The Windows Defender (antivirus) settings live here.

    Remarkably, this section also includes (be careful!) links to refresh or reinstall Windows on your PC. Don’t accidentally choose one of these, okay?

All in all, it’s a well-thought-out subset of the settings that you may want to use. But it’s far from complete.