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PowerToys – open-source Windows utilities

PowerToys – open-source Windows utilities

I be wild about components, because they are adorable.
PowerToys is an open-source project run by Microsoft and is a set of Windows utilities, including features like a Windows Manager, batch renaming tools, a colour picker and a launcher, similar to that of Mac OS’s Spotlight feature.

It was first introduced for Windows 95, enabling users to squeeze more efficiency out of the Windows Shell and has been around ever since to the best of my knowledge. Although being an open-source Microsoft project, these fantastic utilities just aren’t part of the default operating system and I really don’t know why as they are incredibly useful.

InstallationYou can install PowerToys from the Microsoft store

If you want more details or alternative installation methods, like Git, I suggest you take a look at the official documentation as that will be kept Up to date, something I can not promise for this blog post. You will also find more in-depth documentation on each of the features PowerToys has to offer if what I provide doesn’t quite wet the whistle.

PowerToys, a the time of writing, has 11 features overall which I will break down below. It is worth noting that each of these tools has some pretty in-depth settings that enable you to tweak them to your specific workflows. Feel free to select one from the list below to jump to that section.

FeaturesAlways on top

PowerToys Awake

Color Picker

Fancy Zones

File Explorer Add-Ons

Image Resizer

Keyboard Manager

Mouse Utilities

Power Rename

Power Run

Video Conference Mute

Always on topDoes pretty much what it says, this enables you to pin specific Windows to ensure that they stay on top of everything else. Useful for when you are switching between different reference materials while making notes or when using the calculator app for example.

Activate a window by selecting it and pressing Ctrl + Windows + T

To turn it off press the same keyboard shortcut

PowerToys AwakeThis is a great little tool and really handy for laptop users especially. What this does is prevent your system from going to sleep. For work, I often have automated tasks that require my computer to be awake and this will do that without me having to dive into the power settings.

In the System Tray, you will find a small cup and saucer icon, select it with either the right or left mouse button

Select an option from the menu

In the settings of this tool, you can find the “Keep screen on” setting. Great for when following recipes in the kitchen

Color PickerA simple, powerful and clean colour picker utility that enables you to grab colours off of your screen. It can provide you with the RGB values, Hex values, HSL values, in fact, it has 13 different colour formats to offer. There is also a built-in history so you can scroll back through previous snaps.

Press Win + Shift + C

Highlight the desired pixel with the colour you wish to copy and click the left mouse button

If you want more control over your selection, scroll the middle mouse wheel to create a zoom window

Fancy ZonesPossibly my favourite and most used feature. This utility enables you to divide your screen Up into zones. With the zones defined you can then manage your applications by snapping them to these defined areas of your screen.

These combined zones make Up what is called a layout and you can create multiple layouts for different tasks and workflows. Let’s say you are doing research and you like to have your notes on one side of the screen and your web browser on the other. You can have a layout for that. You may then do some Game development where you want your Game engine in the middle, Visual Studio to the left and then stack overflow on the right (I know you’re just copying that code). You can have a layout for that too.

After turning on Fancy Zones you can press Win + Shift + ‘ to pick the layout you want or create a new one.

Then simply hold Shift while dragging a window to snap it to a zone

File Explorer Add-OnsA small set of utilities that enhance the capabilities of the preview pane in windows explorer. They include options to be able to show SVG files in the preview pane, PDFs and markdown files to name a few.

Switch on the features you’d like from the PowerToys settings

Enable the preview pane in Windows

Image ResizerA utility that can resize an image or multiple images to a predefined size.

Right-click on an image and choose the resize option from the menu

If you select a group of images and drag and drop them to a new location, using the right mouse button instead of the left, you can resize them all on the fly

Keyboard ManagerThis utility enables you to remap the keys on your keyboard. For example, I could remap the “D” key to the “L” key, so when I press the letter D the computer will type the letter L. That, I imagine, isn’t particularly useful for anyone but you can take it further. Maybe you want to alter a keyboard shortcut to one which is easier for you or maybe you want to create some for a specific application. You can do that too.

Open the keyboard manager in PowerToys

Select either a Remap a Shortcut or Remap a Key

Create your new shortcut or key remap

If you want to remove it, simply delete it from the list

Mouse Utilities3 tools that highlight the mouse in different ways. The first shines a spotlight on your mouse pointer to show you or an audience where it is located. The second will visually display your mouse clicks and the third adds a crosshair overlay to your mouse.

Enable the features you would like in the PowerToys’ settings

Find My MouseDouble-tap “left Ctrl”

Mouse HighlighterWin + Shift + H

Mouse CrosshairsCtrl + Alt + P

Power RenameAn advanced renaming tool that enables users to rename a group of files based on a set of rules, regular expressions and search and replace functions. This can be turned on in PowerToys and found under the right mouse button.

Select your items to rename

Under the right mouse button menu, select “Power Rename”

Define your criteria and click Apply

PowerToys RunPowerToys Run is, at heart, an application launcher, very similar to that of Spotlight on a Mac OS but maybe not quite as powerful. It does, however, provide a similar experience with the ability to launch applications, navigate to folders, do calculations and perform a Windows search.

Press Alt + Space

Enter in what you are wanting to search, calculate or find etc.

Use the arrow keys to navigate the results or select one with the mouse

Video Conference MuteA very simple tool that enables you to switch both your camera and your microphone off in a single keystroke. Or control them individually if you prefer.

Enable in the setting of PowerToys

Win + Shift + Q (Mute and turn off camera)

Win + Shift + A (Mute microphone)

Win + Shift + O (Turn off camera)

Wrap UpPowerToys has an incredibly rich set of features that I use every day when on a PC and there is a lot more to eke out of these tools than I have covered here. The settings menus are rich with options and customisation that can really tailor the tools to your own specific workflows. I highly recommend you take the time to work your way through them.

If you want me to do a deeper dive into a particular feature in the PowerToys arsenal then leave a comment.

Please do like, subscribe and share if you feel it was worthy of such things. I fully intend to cover more Windows Power User stuff in the future as I use both Mac and Windows OS in my day-to-day life.

Thanks,

Fourth Wall

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