In an earlier technological era when desktops ruled and laptops were briefcases, Microsoft released a suite of Windows 95 extensions called PowerToys. Despite a committed fan base, PowerToys faded away in newer versions of Windows, but Microsoft announced some months back that it was reviving PowerToys in Windows 10. Now, the first PowerToys utilities are available for download.
For those who have forgotten (or are too young to remember), PowerToys debuted in Windows 95. These free add-ons extended the capabilities in Windows 95, and many of them became default features in newer versions of the operating system. The original batch of tools included starting a command prompt from an Explorer folder, auto-launching CD-ROMs, and moving window focus automatically with the mouse. In Windows XP, Microsoft experimented with batch image resizing in IE, file/folder synchronizing, and a more powerful calculator. Microsoft retired PowerToys following the release of Vista.
It’s taken four months, but the first two PowerToys add-ons for Windows 10 are live on Microsoft’s GitHub. To get started, download the PowerToys installer and launch it. PowerToys lives in the system tray, allowing you to enable or disable each tool. Currently, there are two PowerToys available in the client: FancyZones and Shortcut Guide.
At the time of the announcement, Shortcut Guide was the only tool Microsoft had fleshed out. The version we have now is indeed similar to what the company demoed in May. This tool helps you use all those Windows key shortcuts you probably don’t use. Simply hold the Windows key for a moment, and an overlay appears on the screen to remind you of features like managing virtual desktops, launching taskbar apps, and various setting shortcuts.
The other PowerToys module, known as FancyZones, is a bit more advanced. This tool lets you create custom window layouts for more efficient multitasking. For example, you might want to split your monitor into three columns instead of the two zones you get with snapping in Windows 10. Alternatively, you might just want windows floating in a particular area of the screen. Just create a layout or choose one of the templates, and then hold Shift while dragging to drop windows into one of your custom zones — they’ll snap right into place. You can also choose to override the Windows Snap hotkey (Win + arrow) with FancyZones.
This is only the first release, and Microsoft plans to release a lot more tools. If the new PowerToys is anything like the old one, it may give us a glimpse at features that will come bundled in future Windows builds.