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Personalizing the Appearance of Windows 10

You can make Windows 10 yours by personalizing its appearance. From fine-tuning your window colors to choosing your desktop backgrounds, screen savers, sounds, mouse pointers, themes, and display settings, you can personalize Windows 10 in many ways. Navigating this maze of options can be tricky, however, especially when you want to achieve robust performance while maintaining a desired look and feel.

Many factors can affect your computer's appearance and performance, including hardware components and account controls. You achieve a balance between appearance and performance by making trade-offs when applying personalization settings, yet personalization settings largely determine the quality of your experience.

Of the many interconnected appearance and performance features, you have the most control over the following:

  • Basic interfaces and account controls
  • Desktop themes, screen savers, and backgrounds
  • Personal account settings

In this tutorial, you'll learn how to fine-tune these features while maintaining the balance between appearance and performance.

Customizing Basic Interfaces

Windows has many customizable interface features. You can customize your computer's control panels, prompts, and more. This section shows you how.

Personalizing Control Panel

Control Panel provides quick access to important system utilities and tasks. You can display the Control Panel from any File Explorer view by clicking the leftmost arrow button on the Address bar and then clicking Control Panel.

Tip:
Did you know that Control Panel is simply a File Explorer view panel? This PC, Network, Libraries and other view panels are accessible as well using the address bar, and when you are working with any of these views, you can switch to other views using the address bar.

When you are working with Control Panel, Control Panel has several different views available. You can change views in Control Panel by using the options on the View By list. Category view, accessed by clicking Category in the View By list, shows system utilities by category, utility name, and key tasks. All Control Panel Items view, accessed by clicking Large Icons or Small Icons in the View By list, lists all items in the Control Panel alphabetically by name.

In Category view, all utilities and tasks are accessed with a single click, as with options and programs on the Start menu. You might want to configure your computer to use the more efficient single-click option to open documents, pictures and other items as well. Configuring single-click open on all items may also help you avoid confusion as to whether you need to click or double-click something.

When you have single-click open configured, pointing to an item selects it and clicking opens it. To configure single-click open, follow these steps:

  1. In Control Panel, click Appearance And Personalization.
  2. Under File Explorer Options, click Specify Single- Or Double-Click To Open.
  3. In the File Explorer Options dialog box, on the General tab, select Single-Click To Open An Item (Point To Select), and then click OK.

With everything set to open with one click, you might find that working with Control Panel and File Explorer is much more intuitive.

Fine-Tuning Control Prompts

When you are working with local user accounts, the account can either be a standard user account or an administrator account.

Standard users can perform any general computing tasks, such as starting programs, opening documents, and creating folders, as well as any support tasks that do not affect other users or the security of the computer. Administrators, on the other hand, have complete access to the computer and can make changes that affect other users and the security of the computer.

In Windows 10, regardless of whether you are logged on as a standard user or an administrator, you see a User Account Control (UAC) prompt by default when programs try to make changes to your computer and when you try to run certain privileged applications. UAC is a collection of features designed to help protect your computer from malicious programs by improving security.

Generally, when you are logged on as a standard user, you are prompted to provide administrator credentials. On most personal or small office computers, each local computer administrator account is listed by name on the prompt, and you must click an account, type the account's password, and then click OK to proceed. If you log on to a domain, the prompt shows the logon domain and provides user name and password boxes. In this case, you must enter the name of an administrator account, type the account's password, and then click OK to proceed.

When you are logged on with an administrator account, you are prompted for consent to continue. The consent prompt works the same regardless of whether you are connected to a domain, and you must simply click OK to proceed.

The process of getting approval, prior to running an application in administrator mode and performing actions that change system-wide settings, is known as elevation. Elevation enhances security by providing notification when you are about to perform an action that could affect system settings, such as installing an application, and eliminating the ability for malicious programs to invoke administrator privileges without your knowledge and consent.

Windows 10 performs several tasks before elevating the privileges and displaying the UAC prompt, but there is just one that you need to know about: Windows switches to a secure, isolated desktop before displaying the consent prompt, which prevents other processes or applications from providing the required permissions or consent.

Note:
Only the prompt itself runs on the secure desktop. All other running programs and processes continue to run on the interactive user desktop.

Elevation, consent prompts, and the secure desktop are the key aspects of UAC that affect you and how you use your computer. To reduce the number of prompts you see, UAC can differentiate between changes to Windows settings and changes to the operating system made by programs and devices. Most of the time, for example, you'll only want to know when programs are trying to install themselves or make changes to the operating system; you won't want to be prompted every time you try to change Windows settings. You also can configure UAC so that the secure desktop is not used.

UAC can prevent you from installing certain types of programs on your computer. Sometimes you can get around this by right-clicking the program's .exe or other installer file and selecting Run As Administrator. Keep in mind, however, that after the program is installed, it might need to always run with administrator privileges. Instead of right-clicking the program and selecting Run As Administrator every time you want to use it, make the change permanent by right-clicking the program's shortcut or installed .exe file and selecting Properties. On the Compatibility tab, in the Settings section, select Run This Program As An Administrator, and then click OK.

To fine-tune UAC, follow these steps:

  1. In Control Panel with Category view, click the Review Your Computer's Status link under System And Security.
  2. In the left pane, click Change User Account Control Settings.
    Tip:
    Alternatively, type wscui.cpl in the Search box and then press Enter. In Action Center, click Change User Account Control Settings.
  3. On the User Account Control Settings page, use the slider to choose when to be notified about changes to the computer, and then click OK to save your settings. The available options are:
    • Always Notify Me When: Always notifies you when programs try to install software or make changes to the computer and when you change Windows settings. You should choose this option if your computer requires the highest security possible and you frequently install software and visit unfamiliar websites.
    • Notify Me Only When Apps Try To Make Changes To My Computer (Default):
      Notifies you only when programs try to make changes to the computer but not when you change Windows settings. You should choose this option if your computer requires high security but you want to reduce the number of notification prompts.
    • Notify Me Only When Apps Try To Make Changes To My Computer (Do Not Dim My Desktop):
      Works the same as Default but also prevents UAC from switching to the secure desktop. You should choose this option if you work in a trusted environment with familiar applications and you do not visit unfamiliar websites. You may also want to use this option if it takes a long time for your computer to switch to the secure desktop.
    • Never Notify Me When:
      Turns off all UAC notification prompts. You should choose this option if security is not a priority and you work in a trusted environment. If you select this option, you must restart your computer for this change to take effect.
Note:
Depending on the current configuration of UAC, you may be prompted for permissions or consent. In a domain, you might not be able to manage UAC by using this technique, although you may be able to configure individual UAC features in Local Security Policy, accessible from the All Apps\Windows Administrative Tools menu. When you are working with Local Security Policy, expand Local Policies under Security Settings, and then click Security Options. Next scroll until you see the UAC policies.

Creating an Alternate Control Panel View

You may have heard about an alternate view for Control Panel that I've been calling the Ultimate Control Panel. To create an alternate view for Control Panel, you simply open File Explorer and create a new folder, preferably on the desktop. Give the folder any name you like, followed by a period and the globally unique identifier (GUID) for the alternate Control Panel view.

The GUID is: {ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}. For example, you could name your folder:

MyStuff.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

Or

ViewPanel.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

Or

JustCool.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

Ultimate Control Panel is shown. Remember, it's the GUID, not the text string, that does the magic. The GUID is a registered value in the operating system, and it identifies the alternate Control Panel view. When you create and name the folder in this way, you'll have an Ultimate Control Panel that helps you quickly perform common tasks, by allowing easy navigation of many Control Panel options.

Creating a Dedicated Administrator Command Prompt

You use the command prompt to access the Windows 10 command-line interface. If you're a seasoned computer pro, you know this, and you also know that you must elevate the command prompt to perform any administrator tasks. Normally, you do this by accessing Command Prompt by right-clicking the Windows logo, and then clicking Command Prompt (Admin). You also can do this by accessing the Start screen, typing cmd.exe, right-clicking Command Prompt in the results list, and clicking Run As Administrator. The result is the same either way: a command prompt that allows you to run tasks that require administrator privileges.

If you pinned Command Prompt to the taskbar, getting an administrator command prompt is a bit more difficult. More difficult, really? Yes, really. To elevate, you must right-click the pinned Command Prompt, right-click Command Prompt again in the jump list, and then click Run As Administrator.

You may be wondering if there is a workaround, and there is. Cmd.exe is stored in the %WinDir%\System32 folder, where %WinDir% is an environment variable that points to the base installation folder for Windows such as C:\Windows. After you locate the file, create a copy by right-clicking Cmd.exe and clicking Copy, and then paste the copy to another folder by accessing the folder, right-clicking, and then clicking Paste. It's a good idea to paste the copy into one of your personal folders, such as Documents.

Next, right-click the copy of Cmd.exe and click Properties. On the Compatibility tab, in the Settings section, select Run This Program As An Administrator, and then click OK. Finally, right-click the copy of Cmd.exe again and click Pin To Start Menu or Pin To Taskbar. Now the pinned copy of Cmd.exe will always run with administrator privileges.

More: Windows 10 Tutorials