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PowerToys has been a perennial favorite here at Crown Computers. As a suite of extended functions made by Microsoft to integrate with Windows, it’s kind of a shame that it’s a separate program that needs to be installed and updated on its own. While these features don’t seem to be heading into the operating system itself, they’re super handy for many situations and can help enhance your overall satisfaction with how Windows works. Today, we’ll catch up with the latest changes and take a look at how PowerToys can help you get a productivity edge in your daily computing.

A set of Windows extensions?

PowerToys might be a little confusing to the newcomer because it isn’t exactly an app. Instead, it’s many tools that give you special shortcuts to a lot of things that are a part of Windows, but that you might not want to go looking for or messing with. They’re extensions that are maintained and distributed by Microsoft, and even have their own patches and fixes that get rolled out in updates.

We talk often enough about patching your operating system to make sure that you’re safe, but for a lot of apps, that patching is required to keep the software usable and stable. Software maintainers are always pushing out new features to their app, and updating the software is the only way to enjoy those new features and have the latest security patches. Once installed, PowerToys will give you messages when there is an update. A lot of the time, these are just stability issues (bugs) being ironed out, but for PowerToys, it is regularly a way to deliver more functionality.


Another slick tool that can make your computing life much smoother is WinGet. If you’re the administrator on your machine and comfortable using Command Prompt or PowerShell, I recommend WinGet to keep PowerToys—and every other app on your desktop—up to date. WinGet is the Windows package manager that allows you to update all of your software, as long as there’s a version of the app in the WinGet repository or Microsoft Store. All you need to do is open the Command Prompt or PowerShell, type “WinGet upgrade –all” and it will keep many of your third-party apps, including PowerToys, up to date to make sure you have all of the features available. If you’re new to PowerToys, you could install it with WinGet by using “WinGet install powertoys.”

Again, these commands require administrator privileges, so if you don’t have them, you’ll need to clear the installation with your administrator. Personally, if anyone were to call in to the service desk and ask to install PowerToys on their work computer, I would jump at the chance to bring them the additional functionality.

WinGet does have a downside that other commentators have pointed out: it can be kind of opaque where the packages are coming from. A great deal of them come from the WinGet Repository, and some from the Microsoft Store. You can find some surprising things there… surprising in the sense that you’ll even find niche open-source software here. For instance, I use KDE Connect (a network sharing app usually associated with Linux) on my home devices to send files, remote control from my mobile device, and even run commands on some of my machines. It is updated regularly, so when I do my roughly once a week “WinGet upgrade –all” then it is updated to the newest version. If you don’t want to upgrade an app, simply pin it to the version it’s on.

PowerToys: the coolest extensions

One of the most powerful features in the original PowerToys was FancyZones, which you can read about here. It’s an extension for the Windows window manager that helps you organize your screen, which is very important when you’ve got multiple monitors in use. While it’s kind of a showstopper, there are quite a few useful parts to PowerToys to look further into as well.

Mouse Without Borders

Having multiple monitors is one thing, but multiple computers is something entirely different. For you to use the same mouse on multiple computers, those Windows computers need to be network connected and need a server and client set up to send and receive the mouse. Notice that you need Mouse Without Borders on both machines; if you want to do this with two different operating systems (any combination of Windows, Mac, and Linux), you’ll want to look at Barrier or Synergy. Once set up, you can go off the edge of your screen to another computer, just like it’s another monitor.

Find My Mouse

If you’ve got a high-resolution monitor or two, or have Mouse Without Borders set up (or my personal favorite solution, Barrier), Find My Mouse is a handy utility that spotlights your mouse when it gets lost. The default shortcut is to tap Ctrl twice. Your screens will dim slightly, and a big spotlight moves in on your cursor to point you to where it is. There are also a few Mouse Utilities rolled into the same screen, like Mouse Jump and Mouse Highlighter, which can otherwise help you get your mouse from place to place very clearly when you have complicated monitor configurations.

Screen Ruler

Screen Ruler is a simple utility for measuring pixels of windows and elements on your screen. When you put Win+Shift+M the options come up “Snipping Tool-style.”

Get the most out of your Windows operating system

Selecting the rectangle allows you to click and drag a space on the screen to see how large something is in pixels. The crosshairs and lines automatically detect the object you are trying to measure and show you how long both or one dimension is on the element that you’re measuring.

What are these good for? One use case: with multiple monitors of varying resolutions, you might run into some weirdness when taking snips and screenshots; checking the size explicitly can help you make sure that your screenshots make sense for what you’re trying to accomplish. On a 4k monitor, for instance, the large number of pixels in a screenshot can make for bigger and unprintable files. Of course, you could also use the Image Resizer PowerToy to make lower resolution versions that are more manageable just by right-clicking on a file and choosing a smaller size.

Paste As Plain Text

Another handy tool is the Paste as Plain Text extension. When it’s on, you can past text anywhere in Windows, with Ctrl+C to copy and Win+Ctrl+Alt+V to paste only text and no special formatting. This is another very handy trick for working with emails and text messages, since changing from one kind of text—a webpage, an email, etc.—to another can result in something awkward or unreadable.

Quick Accent

If you type in multiple languages, Quick Accent is a very helpful tool for getting letters associated with languages other than English. It can be a little tricky to use at first, since you need to hold the letter, you would like to type and push the left arrow or right arrow simultaneously. Once you do, you’ll be able to scroll left and right to find the right accent or alternative letter, some of which are even mathematical symbols to insert into your documents.

PowerToys: more interesting and advanced tools

PowerToys also contains more developer- and administrator-oriented tools, such as the Environment Variables, Registry Preview, and Hosts File Editor. These tools are new takes on classic Windows components that have to do with core operating system functions, providing what some might say are necessary updates to some of the oldest parts of Windows. These tools are especially helpful for configuring your operating system for software development and testing. Of course, if you spend some time making PowerShell scripts, you might also be interested in Command Not Found, which is a PowerShell module that detects errors in your commands and suggests relevant WinGet packages to fill in the gaps.

Worth a mention here is also Crop and Lock, one of the newer PowerToys additions. It’s an interesting tool that I can’t quite find a use for. The “cropping” being done here is the cropping of a window or application down to a custom size for viewing. If you have an application that you use but only look at part of it, you can size down the application and make it into a thumbnail of exactly the right amount of information. The “reparent shortcut” feature is the same thing but tries to make the window usable—that is, control the application that you’ve just sized down. The development team warned that reparenting here is an experimental feature that might not work with all apps, so be warned that if you can think of a use for this functionality, it might still have some weird side effects.

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