You probably have a “tool drawer” in your house or apartment with a wrench, a few screwdrivers, and other tools for simple household projects. That’s what PowerToys is, just for Windows.
Microsoft’s PowerToys debuted over two years ago, growing from a single utility to a dozen Windows tools that perform specialized tasks to improve your life. Some can be extremely powerful! I’m going to show you a number of ways I use Microsoft PowerToys in Windows 10 and 11 as examples to let you do more.
For those who want to dive into the code, you can visit the PowerToys GitHub page. But if you just want to download and use PowerToys, there are two easy ways:
Either way, you’ll end up with a little utility that will live on your taskbar. At any time, you can click on it to open its Settings menu and play with the different tools. Each PowerToy offers a ton of configuration possibilities – that’s the point! – but the basic functions are simple enough that you can easily understand what each one is doing. And every PowerToy has a master on-off switch, so you can turn them off if you don’t need to run it. (This is not particularly necessary, but it is an option.)
Mark Hachman / IDG
What are Microsoft PowerToys?
Here is a list of each PowerToy and what it does. We have linked each to Microsoft’s Tool Support document, which explains in more detail how they can be used.
Always on Top: Although you can use any application you want, Always on Top prevents Windows from burying an application under another window.
Awake: Your PC will stay awake at full power, without needing to manage Windows power and sleep settings.
Color Picker: Want to know the exact color of an image under your cursor? Color Picker will identify it and even copy it.
FancyZones: the original PowerToy. Arrange and align your windows in a variety of arrangements on your screen.
File Explorer Add-ons: This strengthens File Explorer, allowing you to preview file types such as PDF documents and SVG images without a separate editor.
Image Resizer: An easy way to resize images without needing a separate photo editor to do so.
Keyboard manager: remap your keyboard keys, including keyboard shortcuts, simply and quickly.
Mouse Utilities: Although referred to as “Mouse Utilities”, this is essentially a shortcut to the “Find My Mouse” utility which we’ll explain below.
PowerRename: If you want to batch find / highlight and rename a number of files, this is the utility to use.
PowerToys Run: PowerToys Run is a fast launcher for apps and files. It complements the Start menu.
Shortcut Guide: If you forgot all the available Windows shortcuts that use the Windows key, this utility lists them.
Video conferencing mute: a quick shortcut to turn off your microphone and camera.
How PowerToys Can Improve Your Life
Here are several quick ways PowerToys improves my productivity:
1) Keep a calculator or other app always on top
Every now and then I’ll need to do some quick calculations on benchmark data, some of which may not have been programmed for Excel. If I need to enter the data elsewhere, the Calculator app may be hidden behind the other window. Always on Top prevents this from happening, which is way more useful than you might think.
Mark Hachman / IDG
2) Quickly tag vacation photos with PowerRename
You probably don’t want to micro-manage vacation / event photos, and neither do I. But cloud services aren’t perfect for grouping photos outside of the location and time they were taken. With PowerRename, you can access OneDrive, lasso a group of photos with your mouse, and PowerRename them something simple, such as “EricElaineWedding”. The tool will give each photo its own unique name, such as “EricElaineWedding4”. This way, you can avoid having to create special folders for each event, and the process only takes a few seconds, once you know what you’re doing.
PowerRename works more like a “find / replace” for filenames than anything else, although you can use a wildcard character.
PowerRename Windows PowerToys
Mark Hachman / IDG
3) Keep my PC awake while downloading games
The California Electric Utility bills one arm and one leg for electricity, and our house does not yet have solar power. We also pay for a mid-level broadband connection. There have been times when I wanted to leave a computer on to download a game or two, without changing Windows power and sleep settings. I just check the estimated time to download the game, enable Awake during that time through the tool’s settings, as well as the option to turn off the screens. The game downloads then my PC goes back to sleep.
4) Image Resize photos for publication Taking, editing and posting photos is part of my job, and photos I
take are large enough for posting. This is not always the case for supplier photos, which may not meet the minimum size required by our content management system. I finally set up a custom Image Resizer setup so that I could quickly resize the photos and then upload what I need to meet a deadline.
PowerToys Image Resizer running on Windows 10.
5) Hide in a video conference with Video Conference Mute
Being part of a global media organization means meetings aren’t always scheduled at the most appropriate times for my time zone. Sometimes I’m forced to listen to a Zoom or Teams call early in the morning, where my presence is required, but not necessarily my participation. With the Video Conference Mute shortcut, I can be sure that all microphones and cameras are turned off.
6) Find my mouse I’m a big believer in multiple monitors to maximize productivity, and sometimes even doing something like moving the mouse won’t make the location of the cursor obvious. Connect a double click on the left CTRLkey in your muscle memory (nextCTRL-V
A projector “zooms in” on your mouse cursor, which is actually much better than a screenshot.
Mark Hachman / IDG
7) FancyZones is a powerful version of Windows Snap Oddly, I don’t use FancyZones — once the Reason to use PowerToys, as much as I used to, if only because Windows 11 basically has a simplified version of FancyZones built in. But if you are on Windows 10, FancyZones isincredible
The bottom line: PowerToys is free, convenient, and available to Windows users. It’s a must-have, and it keeps getting better.
As senior editor of PCWorld, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other things. He previously wrote for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.