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Microsoft Operating Systems Administration

This tutorial builds upon that and focuses more on the administration of those operating systems.

In the following sections, we will look at the Microsoft GUI from the ground up. We took a detailed look at its key components, and we will build on that with an exploration of basic tasks common across Windows 7, Vista, and XP. The following general topics will be covered:

  • Control Panel
  • The command prompt
  • The Windows Registry
  • Virtual memory

Control Panel

Although for the most part the Windows system is functional from the time it is installed, Microsoft realized that if someone were going to use computers regularly, they would probably want to be able to customize their environment so it would be better suited to their needs-or at least more fun to use. As a result, the Windows environment has a large number of utilities that are intended to give you control over the look and feel of the operating system.

This is, of course, an excellent idea. It is also a bit more freedom than some less-thancautious users seem to be capable of handling, and you will undoubtedly serve a number of customers who call you in to restore their configuration after botched attempts at changing one setting or another.

More than likely, you will also have to reinstall Windows yourself a few times because of accidents that occur while you are studying or testing the system's limits. This is actually a good thing because no competent computer technician can say that they have never had to reinstall because of an error. You can't really know how to fix Windows until you are experienced at breaking it. So it is extremely important to experiment and find out what can be changed in the Windows environment, what results from those changes, and how to undo any unwanted results. To this end, we will examine the most common configuration utility in Windows: Control Panel. The names of some of the applets, icons, categories, and tasks are different in various versions of Windows; different names are indicated in parentheses. And not all applets are available in all versions. You'll see some of the more popular applets described in Table-1.

Table-1 Selected Windows Control Panel applets

Applet Name 		Function
Add Hardware 		Adds and configures new hardware.

Add Or Remove Programs	Changes, adds, or deletes software.
(Add/ Remove Programs)

Administrative Tools 	Performs administrative tasks on the computer.

Date And Time  		Sets the system time and configures options such
(Date/Time)		as time zone.

Display 		Configures screensavers, colors, display options,
			and monitor drivers.

Folder Options 		Configures the look and feel of how folders are
			displayed in Windows Explorer.

Fonts 			Adds and removes fonts.

Internet Options 	Sets a number of Internet connectivity options.

Sounds And Multimedia; 	Configures audio, video, or audio and video options.
Sounds And Audio 
Devices; also Scanners
And Cameras (Multimedia)

Network And Dial-Up 	Sets options for connecting to other computers.
Connections; Network 
Connections (Network)

Phone And Modem Options	 Sets options for using phone lines to dial out to a
(Modems)		 network or the Internet.

Power Options 		Configures different power schemes to adjust
			power consumption.

Printers And Faxes 	Configures printer settings and print defaults.

System 			Allows you to view and configure various system
			elements. We'll look at this in more detail later in
			this tutorial.

In current version of Windows, when you first open Control Panel, it appears in Category view. Control Panel programs have been organized into different categories, and this view provides you with the categories to choose from. Once you choose a category, you can pick a task and the appropriate Control Panel program is opened for you, or you can select one of the Control Panel programs that is part of the category. However, you can change this view to Classic view, which displays all the Control Panel programs in a list, as in older versions of Windows. Use Control Panel utilities (the items are organized by 'classic view/large icons' in Windows)." Because of this, we strongly suggest that administrators change to this view. To do so, click Switch To Classic View in the left pane. Throughout this tutorial, when we refer to accessing Control Panel programs, we will assume that you have changed the view to Classic view.

For a quick look at how the Control Panel programs work, the Date/Time applet is used to configure the system time, date, and time zone settings, which can be important for files that require accurate time stamps or to users who don't have a watch. Because it is a simple program, it's a perfect example to use. Current versions of Windows have an Internet Time tab, which enables you to synchronize time on the computer with an Internet time server.

Changing the Time Zone

  1. Click Start a Control Panel.
  2. From Control Panel, double-click the Date/Time (Date And Time) icon (by default, the programs are listed alphabetically).
  3. Click the Time Zone tab and use the drop-down menu to select (GMT -03:30) Newfoundland.
  4. Hop a plane to Newfoundland, secure in the knowledge that you will know what time it is once you get there.
  5. If you skipped step 4, change the time zone back to where it should be before closing the window.

The Regional and Language Options

Regional settings are configured through the Control Panel applet called Region And Language (in Windows 7) or Regional And Language Options (in Vista and XP). From this applet (INTL.CPL), you can choose what format is used for numbers, what the layout is of the keyboard you are using, your geographic location, and the language to be used for non-Unicode programs.

The ability to support so many languages is provided through the use of the Unicode standard. In Unicode, and the Unicode Character Set (UCS), each character has a 16-bit value. This allows the same character to be interpreted/represented by 65,536 different entities.

The Internet Options Applet

The Internet Options applet (INETCPL.CPL) brings up the Internet properties. The tabs here include General, Security, Privacy, Content, Connections, Programs, and Advanced. This applet is used when you want to configure the browser environment and such things as the programs used to work with files found online.

The Folder Options Applet

Some of the more important files you will need to work on are hidden by default as a security precaution. To make certain folders or files visible, you need to change the display properties of Windows Explorer.

Showing Hidden Files and Folders

  1. Open Windows Explorer on a Windows XP system.
  2. Browse to the root of the C: drive. Look for the IO.SYS system file. It should be hidden and will not appear in the file list.
  3. Choose Tools a Folder Options. The Folder Options window opens.
  4. Select the View tab, and scroll until you find the Hidden Files option.
  5. Select Show All Files.
  6. Deselect Hide Protected Operating System Files (Recommended).
  7. Uncheck Hide File Extensions For Known File Types.
  8. Click OK. You will now be able to see the Windows system files discussed in the following sections. For security reasons, you should set these attributes back to the defaults after you've read this tutorial.

The System Control Applet

The System Control Panel applet is one of the most important, and it's nearly all business. It usually appears with System Properties in the title bar. From within this one relatively innocuous panel (SYSDM.CPL), you can make a large number of configuration changes to a Windows machine. The different versions of Windows have different options available in this applet, but they can include some of the following options:

  • General
  • Network Identification
  • Device Manager
  • Hardware
  • Hardware Profiles
  • User Profiles
  • Environment Variables
  • Startup and Recovery
  • Performance
  • System Restore
  • Automatic Updates
  • Remote
  • Computer Name
  • Advanced

The General tab (in Windows XP) gives you an overview of the system, such as OS version, registration information, basic hardware levels (processor and RAM), and the service pack level that's installed, if any. In the following sections, we will look a bit more closely at the functionality of the rest of the tabs (we identify which versions of Windows contain each tab).

Computer Name

This tab is used to define whether the machine is in a workgroup or a domain environment. Here's the difference between a workgroup and a domain:

  • Workgroup:
    Loosely associated computers, each of which is its own security authority, that share a common workgroup name.

  • Domain:
    A group of computers that is tightly connected or associated and share a common domain name. Has a single authority (called a domain controller) that manages security for all the computers.


This tab includes a number of tools, all of which allow you to change how the hardware on your machine is used:

  • Driver Signing
    To minimize the risks involved with adding third-party software to your machine, Microsoft came up with a technique called driver signing. Installing new hardware drivers onto the system is a situation in which both viruses and badly written software can threaten your system's health. To minimize the risks, you can choose to use only drivers that have been signed. The signing process is meant to ensure that you are getting drivers that have been checked with Windows 7/Vista/XP and that those drivers have not been modified maliciously.
Even in a Plug and Play system, it is important to properly unplug a device if you wish to remove it while the system is running. If you don't do this, nothing may go wrong, but you can sometimes damage the device or cause the system to become unstable.
Understand that loading alternate third-party drivers when necessary can be a solution to problems. Know, as well, that it is preferred that those drivers be signed.

When you purchase a hardware device, odds are it's been in that box for a while. By the time it gets made, packaged, stored, delivered to the store, stored again at the retailer, and then purchased by you, it's entirely likely that the company that made the device has updated the driver-even possibly a few times if there have been a lot of reported problems.

When you install a device, always go to the manufacturer's website to see if a newer driver is available. The old driver might work fine, but the newest driver is the one most likely to be bug-free and have all of the most current bells and whistles for your device.


The Advanced tab has three subheadings, each of which can be configured separately. They're not identical in Windows versions, however, and this could also be called the Etc. tab rather than the Advanced tab. The following options are among those on this tab:

  • Performance
  • Environment Variables
  • User Profiles
  • Startup And Recovery

Performance: Although it is hidden in the backwaters of Windows's system configuration settings, the Performance option holds some important settings you may need to configure on a system. To access it, on the Advanced tab, click Settings in the Performance area.

In the Performance window, you can set the size of your virtual memory and how the system handles the allocation of processor time. In Windows 7/Vista/XP, you also use Performance to configure visual effects for the GUI.

How resources are allocated to the processor is normally not something you will need to modify. It is set by default to optimize the system for foreground applications, making the system most responsive to the user who is running programs. This is generally best, but it means that any applications (databases, network services, and so on) that are run by the system are given less time by the system.

If the Windows machine will be working primarily as a network server, you may want to change the Performance option to Background Services. Otherwise, leave it as is.

Environment Variables: There are two types of environment variables, and you can access either one by clicking the Environment Variables button:

User Variables: Specify settings that are specific to an individual user and do not affect others who log on to the machine.

System Variables: Set for all users on the machine. System variables are used to provide information needed by the system when running applications or performing system tasks.

System and user variables were extremely important in the early days of DOS and Windows. Their importance has been more subdued with recent Windows versions, but this is the interface where TEMP variables, the location of the OS, and other important settings for Windows can be found.

User Profiles: In Windows 7, Vista, and XP, every user is automatically given a user profile when they log on to the workstation. This profile contains information about their settings and preferences. Although it does not happen often, occasionally a user profile becomes corrupted or needs to be destroyed. Alternatively, if a particular profile is set up appropriately, you can copy it so that it is available for other users. To do either of these tasks, use the User Profiles settings to select the user profile you want to work with. You will be given three options:

  • Delete: Removes the user's profile entirely. When that user logs on again, they will be given a fresh profile taken from the system default. Any settings they have added will be lost, as will any profile-related problems they have caused.
  • Change Type: Allows you to configure a profile as local (the default) or roaming. If a user works at two machines, each machine will use a different profile. Updates to one machine will not be reflected on the other. If you have a network, roaming profiles can be configured to allow a user to have a single profile anywhere on the network.
  • Copy To: Copies a profile from one user to another. Often the source profile is a template set up to provide a standard configuration.

Startup And Recovery The Windows Startup And Recovery options are relatively straightforward. They involve two areas: what to do during system startup and what to do in case of unexpected system shutdown:

  • System Startup: The System Startup option defaults to the Windows OS you installed, but you can change this default behavior if you like. Unless you are dual-booting, only one option is available, but if you have another OS installed, you can change the Windows boot manager to load that as the default. You can also reduce the time the menu is displayed or remove the menu entirely. In Windows XP, you can also click Edit to edit the BOOT.INI file.
  • System Failure: A number of options are available in the Startup And Recovery screen for use in case of problems. These include writing an event about the problem, sending out an alert to the network, and saving information about the problem to disk. These options come into play only in case of a major system problem, though.
Your options for handling system failures will be covered along with troubleshooting information later in this tutorial.

System Protection/System Restore

The System Protection (or System Restore) tab lets you disable/enable and configure the System Restore feature. When it's enabled on one or more drives, the operating system monitors the changes you make on your drives. From time to time it creates what is called a restore point. Then, if you have a system crash, it can restore your data back to the restore point. You can turn on System Restore for all drives on your system or for individual drives. Note that turning off System Restore on the system drive (the drive on which the OS is installed) automatically turns it off on all drives.


The Remote tab lets you enable or disable Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop. Remote Assistance permits people to access this system in response to requests issued by the local user using the Windows Remote Assistance tool. Remote Desktop permits people to log into the system at any time using the Remote Desktop Connection tool.

This can help an administrator or other support person troubleshoot problems with the machine from a remote location.

Remote Assistance is enabled by default. It is handled at two levels. Having just Remote Assistance turned on allows the person connecting to view the computer's screen. To let that person take over the computer and be able to control the keyboard and mouse, click Advanced, and then in the Remote Control section, click Allow This Computer To Be Controlled Remotely. You can also configure Remote Desktop here.

Automatic Updates (Windows XP Only)

The Automatic Updates tab in Windows lets you configure how you want to handle updating the OS. You can specify that you want to automatically download updates or notify the user when updates are available (but not automatically install them), or you can turn off the feature. You can also specify that you want the operating system to notify you again of updates you declined to download at an earlier point in time.

The Security Center Applet

The Security Center applet, knows as Action Center in Windows 7 (WSCUI.CPL) is used to manage the firewall, automatic updates, and virus protection. From here, you can manage settings for Internet options as well and see any maintenance or troubleshooting issues that you need to attend to.

The Windows Firewall Applet

As the name implies, the Windows Firewall applet (FIREWALL.CPL) can be used to manage the firewall included with the operating system.

The Power Options Applet

The Power Options applet (POWERCFG.CPL) allows you to configure a power plan dictating when devices, namely the display and the computer, will to turn off or be put to sleep. Through the advanced settings, you can configure the need to enter a password to revive the devices as well as configure wireless adapter settings, Internet options (namely JavaScript), and the system cooling policy.