fancy zones

Customize your Windows Desktop Workflow with FancyZones (PowerToys I)

November 29, 2021

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PowerToys is a suite of extensions for Windows that provides a few very powerful features to users who install it. They don’t come as a part of the operating system or normal feature updates, but can be installed by downloading them or finding them in the Microsoft Store. The PowerToys are available on Windows 10, but have recently received an update to make their UI fit better into Windows 11 as well. This is the first post in a two part series on PowerToys and will focus exclusively on FancyZones.

Setting up FancyZones

One of the most powerful productivity tools in PowerToys is FancyZones, which provides elements of a tiling window manager when used with grids. While its functionality is similar to using Win+Arrow Keys for Windows Snap, FancyZones allows you to define areas of various sizes (in advance) for where windows should be on the screen. FancyZones also gives you more control over features than Snap and gives you the ability to create a custom workflow if you regularly use the same layout of windows.

PowerToys is a suite of extensions for Windows that provides a few very powerful features to users who install it. They don’t come as a part of the operating system or normal feature updates, but can be installed by downloading them or finding them in the Microsoft Store. The PowerToys are available on Windows 10, but have recently received an update to make their UI fit better into Windows 11 as well. This is the first post in a two part series on PowerToys and will focus exclusively on FancyZones.

Setting up FancyZones

One of the most powerful productivity tools in PowerToys is FancyZones, which provides elements of a tiling window manager when used with grids. While its functionality is similar to using Win+Arrow Keys for Windows Snap, FancyZones allows you to define areas of various sizes (in advance) for where windows should be on the screen. FancyZones also gives you more control over features than Snap and gives you the ability to create a custom workflow if you regularly use the same layout of windows.

To select or edit the zones’ layout, we can either open the PowerToys settings, or we can launch it with the FancyZones default key combination, Win+Shift+` (grave accent key, lowercase tilde). Creating a new layout gives us the ability to construct the zones on our screens. My screen layout on my office workstation, for instance, is always 1) Zoom in upper left corner, 2) GoogleDoc in Chrome in the bottom left, and 3) pdfs open in Chrome on the right half of my screen, so I created a layout that looks like this:

fancy zones

Once we’ve created the layout and it appears in our FancyZones Editor, we can edit more options by clicking edit in the top right corner of its thumbnail. Here, we’ll find the “Space around zones” setting, which we may need to adjust or turn off to take out the gap between zones that is left by default. But if you have a lot of screen real estate, this might not bother you.

Some of the settings in FancyZones can be used to reopen applications in their previous zone, or to make windows go back to their original size when they are unsnapped from their zone. These settings are going to be mostly personal preference, and how you set them will depend on how you use your workstation. But if you find yourself doing certain tasks on a regular basis, FancyZones can help you organize windows in their most efficient layout, and do it consistently and effortlessly once set up.

FancyZones and/or Windows Snap

You can use FancyZones in conjunction with Snap, or choose the option to “Override Windows Snap” to have the Win+Arrow Keys shortcuts work with FancyZones instead of Snap. Personally, I like using the two together and Snapping windows to one side of the monitor or another with the keyboard, regardless of which FancyZones layout I’m using at the time. But there are a few different combinations you could achieve with the shortcuts for FancyZones and Snap, depending on your preferences.

Let’s say I want to use FancyZones when I’m using the mouse and Snap when I’m using the keyboard. In this scenario, I’ll check “Use a non-primary mouse button to toggle zone activation,” and leave “Override Windows Snap” off. Now I can activate FancyZones by Right Clicking once (or Mouse Wheel Clicking, etc.) while I’m dragging a window. This way, I can still use the Win+Arrow Keys with the default snap commands.

If I want to reverse this setup and use Snap with the mouse, and FancyZones with the keyboard, then I can set FancyZones to “Override Windows Snap” and (this is important!) check “Hold Shift key to activate zones while dragging,” and then simply drag windows to use Snap on the edges of the display. Without checking the Shift key setting, FancyZones will be activated any time you drag a window, which makes Windows Snap ineffective.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the rest of the PowerToys, and see how they can help you with workstation tasks that are often tedious or inconsistent.

-Written by Derek Jeppsen on Behalf of Sean Goss and Crown Computers Team