Microsoft PowerToys – What Do They Do?

We’ve mentioned the Microsoft PowerToys a few times since the started releasing them again a few years ago. It’s been quite a while since we’ve mentioned them, we thought we’d cover all the currently available toys (as of this writing) and how they might be able help you.

First off, what are Microsoft PowerToys? The Microsoft PowerToys originally were released back in the Windows 95 and Windows XP days to add a handful of nifty features and utilities to Windows that weren’t included in the base operating system. They’re developed by the folks at Microsoft and are generally fairly handy. The PowerToys moniker took a break during Window Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8, but have come back for Windows 10 and 11, and are full of handy utilities. Here is the current list of utilities that come with Microsoft PowerToys, in alphabetical order (with links to Microsoft’s documentation on each tool):

Always On Top:  Always on Top enables you to pin windows on top of other windows with a quick key shortcut. So if you need a window to always stay on top of another window, this tool will do the trick.

Awake: Awake is a utility for Windows designed to keep a computer awake without having to manage its power or sleep settings. This can be handy if you’re working on a long-running or time-consuming task and you don’t want the computer to go to sleep or the monitor to turn off. Here’s how to enable it.

Color Picker: If you’re a designer (web, print, or otherwise) and want to get the exact color off a web page or any other running program on your computer (and don’t want to go through the headache of opening up Photoshop or something to grab it from a screenshot), Color Picker can help here.

FancyZones: Everybody got really excited about being able to snap Windows to specific regions of your screen in Windows 11, but FancyZones allowed you to do that in Windows 10 fairly easily. FancyZones is a window manager utility for arranging and snapping windows into efficient layouts to improve the speed of your workflow and restore layouts quickly. This was one of the first PowerToys available and you can see a video of it in action here and read more about it here. 

File Locksmith: Ever tried to rename, move, or delete a file and you get a prompt saying the file is locked or in use and you can’t monkey with it? File Locksmith is a simple but very handy tool to figure out what is actually putting a lock on your files so you can get them released.

File Explorer Add Ons: What this toy does is adds preview pain and Windows icon thumbnail support for SVG files, PDF files, STL files, among others (if you work with a ton of PDF files, this one is worth is for the PDF preview alone). More details here.

Hosts File Editor: This tool is for nerds like us. If you don’t know what a HOSTS file is in Windows, you really shouldn’t be messing with this tool, but the Hosts File Editor provides a convenient way to edit the hosts file configuration, allowing you to do local DNS redirects (useful for web development and DNS troubleshooting).

Image Resizer: Image resizer is a Windows shell extension for bulk image resizing. After installing the PowerToy, right-click on one or more image files and select “Resize Pictures” and watch it go. It’s a pretty cool toy, and while Irfanview offers more bulk conversion options, this PowerToy is great for quick and dirty resizing.

Keyboard Manager: This PowerToy allows you redefine keys on your keyboard to other values. This is handy if you have a keyboard that has function keys that you need to get to and don’t want to have to push the “Fn” key or something similarly silly (or a print screen key that’s hidden under some other function on your keyboard). While some fancier keyboards come with software to do this, we’ve found this tool to be much nicer than installing a whole bloated software package just to get a keyboard remapped. Here’s how to use it.

Mouse utilities: The Mouse Utilities is actually a collection three tools:

  • Find my mouse: Allows you acdtivate a spotlight on the mouse cursor to make it easier to find (especially handy on larger screens).
  • Mouse highlighter: When you click on the left or right mouse buttons, it will display a visual indicator on your cursor – handy if you’re filming a tutorial or training screen share.
  • Mouse Jump: Allows moving the mouse pointer long distances on a single screen or across multiple screens.
  • Mouse pointer crosshairs: If you want to constantly highlight the mouse cursor with crosshairs, this is your tool of choice.

Mouse Without Borders: We mentioned this handy utility years ago, but now it’s been folded into the PowerToys fold. Mouse Without Borders acts like a software-KVM, allowing you to use the same mouse and keyboard and move your mouse between multiple computers like you were using them all as one computer with multiple monitors, allowing you to control up to 4 computers from the same machine.

Paste as Plain Text: This enables you to paste text stored in your clipboard, excluding any text-formatting, using a quick key shortcut. Any formatting included with the clipboard text will be replaced with an unformatted version of the text. While there are shortcuts in Microsoft Office apps for this, this enables the feature system wide.

Peek: Peek is a system-wide utility that allows you to quickly preview a file’s content without the needs to open up a bunch of programs, currently supporting various images, web pages, Markdown files, text files, and developer file types.

PowerRename: We mentioned this tool when it was first released. If you need to rename a bunch of files, PowerRename is a Windows Shell Context Menu Extension for advanced bulk renaming using simple search and replace or more powerful regular expression matching. If you know regular expressions, you can do some very fun stuff with it, but even its basic functionality is very handy.

PowerToys Run: We’ve talked about the run command before, but PowerToys Run is basically the basic Run command on steroids, allowing you to search for applications, files, folders, running processes and allows you to convert units, get time and date, and much more.

Quick Accent: We’ve discussed how to insert special characters for foreign languages but this handy little tool is an alternative way to type accented characters that might be quicker for you.

Shortcut Guide: We love keyboard shortcuts here. We’ve covered Microsoft Teams keyboard shortcutsMicrosoft Word keyboard shortcutsWindows Key shortcutshandy run commandsOutlook shortcutsExcel keyboard shortcutsways to paste plain text, Office Key shortcuts and even Foreign Character shortcuts. This PowerToy provides a quick on-screen view of common keyboard shortcuts that use the Windows key.

Screen Ruler: Need to measure pixels on your screen? This handy little tool allows you to click and drag to measure the distance between two points on your screen.

Text Extractor: Have you ever needed to grab text from an image? Not a simple copy/paste job. Text Extractor enables you to copy text from anywhere on your screen, including inside images or videos.

Video Conference Mute: While we use Microsoft Teams for the bulk majority of our conference and video call needs, we’ll sometimes find ourselves in a Zoom or Go To Meeting or similar webinar or call. And sometimes we find the need to mute our microphone (audio) and/or turn off our camera (video) while on those calls – and every program implements that feature differently. So this toy enables a singular key command that will turn off your microphone and camera system-wide so it’ll work with any app. Check it out.

And coming soon is a tool to back up your PowerToys settings as well as HOSTS File Editor.

As you can see, this is a large list of handy little tools and while they’re technically beta tools, they’re quite stable. Microsoft PowerToys can be downloaded from GitHub or installed via the Microsoft Store.

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