Under some combinations of circumstances, the majority of the icons in the control panel may suddenly disappear or be replaced with generic icons that have no functionality. This can happen in both Windows 2000 Professional and Server. When this happens, a great many critical functions, such as Add/Remove Programs, are no longer available and cannot be launched correctly. The problem is also usually persistent through all user accounts, including the Administrator account. Rebooting in Safe Mode does not help either.
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The reason for this is not a virus or other malicious problem (although it never hurts to check!) but often results from an erroneous resetting of the Global Policies for the machine. Global Policies control (among many other things) the availability of certain icons from the Control Panel, and if reset or set incorrectly they can suddenly render the whole Control Panel inoperative.
To fix the problem, log in as Administrator, go to Start/Run and type GPEDIT.MSC to launch the Global Policy Editor. Open the path User Configuration / Administrative Templates / Control Panel from the tree diagram in the left-hand side of the Policy Editor. On the right-hand pane, double-click "Hide specified control panel applets" and select Disabled. To be doubly safe, double-click "Disable Control Panel" and select Disabled, and do the same for "Show only specified control panel applets."
Note that if you want to hide or reveal Control Panel applets through this mechanism, you can of course do so as well. If you select Enabled from "Hide specified Control Panel Applets" and then click Show | Add, you can type in the name of the .CPL file to hide (with or without the .CPL extension).
Serdar Yegulalp is the editor of the Windows 2000 Power Users Newsletter.