Today we’re going to maximize your Productivity on Windows with Microsoft PowerToys. I’ll show you step-by-step how you can use, customize, and be more efficient when using Microsoft PowerToys.
PowerToys is a set of utilities and apps that help you enhance the functionality of Windows and maximize your productivity. These tools provide a range of features, shortcuts, enhancements, and various ways to make you more efficient when using Windows. It also has some features that you might have seen in other operating systems but can be enabled in Windows too with PowerToys.
If you haven’t heard of PowerToys or it’s been a while since you’ve looked at all the features, sit back as we go through every utility in the PowerToys suite and by the end of this video you’ll be be a pro, or at least you’ll look like one while using Windows. PowerToys is open source and is being rapidly developed and they are adding new features with almost every release. So hopefully byu the end of this video I will have convinced you to install PowerToys and hit the like and subscribe button. Once installed you’ll have a little icon in your system tray where you can launch individual applications, toggle features on and off, or see all settings for all applications.
To get started, download and install PowerToys.
We’ll start with Always on Top. This allows you to pin windows on top of all of your other windows. This is helpful for those times when you want a window to always hover above all other windows, regardless of which window is in focus.
To activate it you press:
This will play a sound and show a border around the window that will always be on top. Now if you try to drag a window on top of this window it will remain on top. You can adjust the color mode for the border and choose any color you like or just stick with your theme’s default. You can also adjust the thickness of the border and choose whether or not you want to round the corners. Finally, you can also choose to enable or disable the sound when activating. You can also choose to exclude apps from pinning on top by entering the process name here. After adding it here, this process will ignore the shortcut to activate Always on Top.
Awake is a quick way to keep your computer away without having to adjust any of your power & sleep settings. This is helpful when running demos, conferences, or any other task where you want to be sure that your device doesn’t go to sleep or turn off its screen.
In the settings for this utility you can choose to keep using the selected power plan, which means it will not affect your power settings at all.
If you change it Keep away indefinitely, your computer will stay awake until you explicitly put the machine to sleep or your exit or disable the utility. This also activates the Keep screen on setting, which gives you the option to also keep your screen on too.
If you choose to keep away for a time interval you can choose how long you want the utility to stay in this mode before reverting back to the previous state. Once the timer is up, it will revert back to the default setting.
The last setting, keep awake until expiration allows you to choose a date and time to end awake mode. This is Like the previous setting, after this expires, it will revert back to your previous setting. This is handy if you have a specific date and time you want to end awake mode.
Next up is Color Picker and this is one of my favorite utilities in Power Toys. It lets you choose a color from any currently running application and you can copy it in a configurable format to your clipboard. Unlike color pickers for browsers, this works system wide and is great for creatives and developers.
To activate the Color Picker press:
This will activate the color picker window where you can drag your cursor to any item on the screen. You will see a color preview and the color value in a specific format that we can change. To sample the color, just click and it’s on your clipboard ready for you to paste.
We have lots of nice options we can change in the settings for this utility, for example, we can choose what happens when we activate the color picker, we can choose to open the editor, pick a color and open the editor, or only pick a color. I set mine to pick a color and open editor because this gives me a popup after choosing my color where I can choose the one of the supported color formats to choose from. I can copy the value to my clipboard to use it. It also has a history feature on the left where I can choose previously sampled colors which is nice if you use this tool often. If you want to fine tune the color you picked, the editor will also show 2 shades darker and 2 shades lighter in the editor window at the top. If you want to go back to the previously selected color it will be in your history. Also, you can choose to customize the color even more by clicking on the color at the top middle and making adjustments using the slider.
You can also choose the default color formats to choose from and even add your own if you don’t see one of the 3 that come out of the box. I typically only use HEX and RGB in my day tyo day but it’s nice to know you have the option to add more.
Another thing I usually turn on is showing the color name. This is handy if you aren’t great at color recognition and need a way to describe this color to someone else. Just toggle it on, activate the color picker and you will see the name of the color that it matches.
The Windows manager in Windows is ok and is improved in later versions of Windows but FancyZones take this to the next level. FancyZones is a windows manager utility for arranging and snapping windows into custom layouts to help you work the way you want to with your windows and allows you to quickly restore them too. This is one of the most feature rich utilities in the stack so I’ll try to break down the most important parts to get you going fast.
If you’re going to FancyZones I would recommend letting FancyZones override the default Windows Snap that’s built in. You can do this in the settings and toggling on the override settings
Next let’s choose a default layout for our zones.
You can activate this by pressing:
Here you can choose one of the existing templates or create your own. Let’s choose one of the existing ones for now.
After choosing a template you can now drag a window while holding
Shift and you will see your zones appear. As you move the window around you will see zones you can snap this window too. If you want to snap zone 3, just drop it in zone 3 and it will fill this area. You can repeat this for any window you have open.
If you want to do this without using the mouse, you can press:
For example if you want to move a window into one of the zones, while the window is in focus press
⊞ Win + right multiple times to cycle through the zones. Once you find the zone you want, just let go of the
⊞ Win key and you’re done!
Once you start snapping windows in the same zone, you might find that you want to switch between windows that are snapped to the same zone, you can easily do this by selecting a window in that zone and then pressing
⊞ Win+PgUp/PgDn. This will cycle through all windows snapped to this zone.
If you want to customize a zone template you can do so by pressing
⊞ Win+Shift+` and then editing your template and adjusting some of the options. You can increase the number of zones, increase the space around zones, and even the distance to highlight adjacent zones which is helpful when trying to merge 2 zones together when dragging a window around.
If you’re not happy with existing zone templates you can create your own by using the Zone Editor
If you activate the Zone picker with:
⊞ Win+Shift+` You will see this button at the bottom that says create new layout. If you click, you can create your own custom zones in either a grid layout that snaps windows into place without overlapping, or canvas which is kind of free form and will allow you to overlap windows.
Now there are many more customization options in the settings like changed colors, multi monitor support
File Locksmith is a nice little utility to help you know which files are in use and by which process. This is really helpful if you are trying to figure out which application is locking a file. For example if I right click on this folder and select “What’s using this file?” it will check to see if any of the files in this folder are being used. We can see here that I have a document opened with Word, Excel, VSCode, and even explorer. I can expand the details of each and see what the specific files are. I can even end the task from here, killing the process and removing the lock. Just be careful if you end the task, it will kill all instances of it.
This File Explorer add-on utility adds some additional functionality to Windows Explorer. The first setting allows you to preview additional file types in the preview pane on the right. To toggle on the preview pane you can press Alt + P. With this setting toggled on you can now see previews for SVGs, Markdown, Source code files, PDFs, and gcode files. The other setting with this the File Explorer add-on utility allows you to see more thumbnails inside of explorer when browsing your file system. This can be handy if you work with these types of files, letting you easily see a preview of the file before opening.
The Host File Editor utility allows you to quickly make changes to your host file. Your host file is the first place Windows looks to resolve IP addresses and although not common unless you are in IT, you might have some non standard items in this list. The host file editor makes it easy to edit this file without making mistakes. You’ll want to be sure that most of the settings are at default in order to get the most out of this utility and that’s “launch as administrator”, “show a warning at startup”, “top being the position of additional content”, and the encoding being “UTF-8”. You can then launch the host file editor and quickly add additional host entries without having to edit them manually. You can add comments, toggle them on and off, reorder entries moving them up and down, run a test ping, and even see the original host file by clicking on this button.
Another great feature of Power Toys is the image resizer. The image resizer lets you bulk resize images just by right clicking and then choosing “Resize pictures” This will pop up some options where you can choose the output for the resize. There are some presets that you can adjust in the settings but the default options are best. After choosing your size and clicking resize, Windows will batch convert all of them files for you. By default it will make copies so it’s safe to run, but this can be changed easily when resizing your files. There are also more settings you can choose from in the image Resizer settings. Still waiting on that webp option.
The Keyboard Manage is a nice little utility that allows you to remap your keys on your keyboard. This is handy if you have an odd keyboard or want to customize some unused keys. For example if we want to remap a keep that is rarely used, at least form, like the
CapsLock key, we can easily do that by opening the utility and then either selecting or pressing our physical key of
CapsLock and then selecting or typing the key you want to map it to. I chose to enter. When saving you will see a warning about
CapsLock no longer being mapped but that’s ok since I never use it. You’re free to remap this if you like. After saving this, you can now see that my
CapsLock key is working just like my
Enter key! Well, looks like I can’t yell at anyone on the internet anymore, so let’s un do that. JK
You can also remap shortcuts if you like. If we wanted to remap the control + c shortcut to control +v in chrome only, we can do it like this. This will now override the copy function with the paste function only when in chrome. Confusing, but it works great.
Mouse Utilities is another one of my favorite Power Toys in this suite. It is a collection of features that enhance the mouse and cursor functions on Windows. It has 4 different features, the first being FInd my Mouse.
Find My Mouse highlights the position of the cursor when you press the left
Control key twice. This is helpful if you can’t find your mouse or even when giving demos to emphasize an area in your demonstration. I use this quite a bit to help viewers focus on what I am focusing on. You can change many aspects of this spotlight and animation, making it just the way you like. You can even change the activation method so if you don’t like pressing left control twice, you can just shake your mouse until it activates.
The next is Mouse Highlighter, this will highlight left and right clicks of your mouse. You can activate it by pressing ⊞ Win+Shift+H. Once activated left clicks will be the default color of yellow and right clicks will be the default color of blue. If you want a different color or experience all of these can be adjusted in the settings.
The next is Mouse Jump. You can activate it with
⊞ Win+Shift+D and then it will show you a screenshot of your desktop. If you click on an area in the image, it will jump your cursor to the location that was clicked. This is great for large monitors where you need to travel great distances. Maybe one day I will have a monitor with a resolution this high to where I need something like this.
The last one in Mouse Utilities is Mouse Pointer Crosshairs. If you activate this with
⊞ Win+Alt+P it will draw crosshairs centered on your mouse pointer. You can adjust any of the settings for the crosshairs in the Appearance & Behavior section.
This is by far one of the coolest features of Power Toys and probably the most complicated. Mouse Without Borders allows you to control up to 4 computers from the same machine with only one keyboard and mouse. Think of it like extending your desktop across multiple machines but you can remote control all machines from all machines. This will make more sense in a bit. You’ll need at least one additional machine with Power Toys installed. Once you have Power Toys installed on all machines, be sure that Enable Mouse Without Borders is turned on.
On the first computer, select New Key to generate a new security key so you can securely connect. Then on the second machine enter the Security Key that was generated on the first machine and enter the first machine’s name. Then select connect. You will then see both machines appear in the device layout. You can rearrange them here to match their physical layout. Now you can switch between each computer by just moving your mouse cursor to the edge of the screen and it will transition between computers! You can add additional computers by repeating this process! Another cool thing I learned is that you can also go the other way too and control your primary machine from the secondary, just start moving the mouse over the shared edge and it will jump back to your main machine!
There are lots of settings and features that you can play with, but some worth mentioning are: sharing the clipboard between machines. This is allows you to copy text from one machine and paste it into another and Copying files between machines. Files less than 100 MB can be transferred too! This is as simple as copying a file and then pasting it. You will see the file transferred using the clipboard. Pretty cool! If you ever want to disconnect from other remote machines, you can simply generate a new key and the others will drop.
There are additional settings, keyboard shortcuts, and even a troubleshooting section that I encourage you to explore once you’ve set this up.
Paste as plain text is just what it sounds like, it will paste text as plain text without the additional formatting. This is super helpful when you are copying something from the web and pasting it into a document. To fix this all you need to do is enable Paste as Plain Text in Power Toys and then when pasting just
⊞ Win+Ctrl+Alt+V and it will paste your text without the formatting.
Peek is a nice little utility that lets you preview a file without opening it up and without scaling up explorer. To use Peek, be sure it’s turned on and then select a file in explorer and press
Ctrl+Space. THis will bring up a preview window where you can check out the file and even arrow through files if you have multiple. Then to close just press the same keys
Ctrl+Space and it will close the preview.
PowerRename is another one of my top used Power Toys. It’s a bulk renaming tool that has a ton of flexibility for managing file names in bulk. To use it, be sure it’s enabled and then select a group of files you want to rename and right click. From there you will see the PowerRename option. After clicking it you will see a new interface that will help you rename files along with a preview. You search within a file name for specific text and even use regex if you like. You can then add text to replace the found text. You can apply it to extensions, files, folders, and sub folders. You can also shift the case to lower, upper, title case, or capitalize each word. You can even enumerate each item, basically giving them a numeric suffix. One other cool thing you can do is use variables in the file name. You can see a list of variables by licking the info button. From here you can click variables and it will add them to the text to replace. Once you are satisfied with the text, you can apply it and it will batch rename all of your files!
PowerToys Run is one of those features that once you start using it’s hard to go back to the old way of doing things. It saves so much time and you look cool doing it too. PowerToys run is a quick launch utility that when pressed will allow you to launch applications, do calculations, even search the web just by typing and it’s way faster than the start menu.
To launch PowerTypes Run press:
From here you can do simple things like launch applications. If you want to launch Chrome just type “chrome” then hit enter. Easy enough. You can also search for files, settings, and even the web. You can also do some advanced searches using plugins. For example if you want to do calculations, you just type in the expression and it will compute it and if you want to copy the value to your clipboard you just hit enter. If you want to base64 encode something you can just type #base64 abcdef and see the value and hit enter to copy it to your clipboard. If you want a guid, just type #guid and it will generate one for you. There are lots of plugins you can explore in the settings or toggle off if you don’t plan on using them. Definitely worth checking out all of the available settings you can change if you’re going to use this feature. Super powerful, super cool.
Quick Accent is a quick way to type accented characters, this is especially useful when using a keyboard layout that doesn’t support the specific accent.
For example on a US English keyboard layout there isn’t an easy to type “ñ”. This makes it hard to type jalapeños. But don’t worry, with the Quick Accent power toy it’s super easy to do. After enabling Quick Accent you can activate it by pressing the key you want to accent along with space. Here we’ll hold
N while pressing space. Then you can keep pressing the spacebar to cycle through the different characters. Once you find the one you want, just let go of the N and it will insert it. If you want to insert “ö” in German, you hold
O, and tap
spacebar until you find it, then let go of
O. There are many settings you can change, especially the activation key if you want to switch from using the
Registry preview is a quick little utility to visually preview registry changes. If you’ve ever opened a registry file with a text editor, you know the struggle of trying to validate these files, especially when editing. Registry Preview makes that a little easier. After opening Registry Preview you’ll then want to select a registry file to open. On the right you can see a preview of where this key lives in your registry along with any of the values. If you want to edit this file, you can on the right. Once edited you can save the file and then reload the file and you can then see the changes in the preview window. If you’re satisfied with these changes you can write them to the registry. You can also use the “Open Key” button to open the registry editor directly to your key. A word of caution, only edit the registry if you know what you’re doing.
Screen Ruler is a PowerToy that’s not only helpful if you’re a designer or developer, but it’s also super fun to use! Screen ruler helps you measure the pixels on your screen based on image edge detection. You can activate it with
⊞ Win+Shift+M and then from here you can choose your measure style.
Bounds will create a bounding box where you can click and drag your mouse to measure the pixels in the box you draw. You can also hold Shift to have your boxes persist until you cancel your selections.
Spacing Will measure both vertical and horizontal pixels at the same time as you move your cursor around the screen. Horizontal and Vertical measure will do the same but only measuring one at a time. You can cancel any of these at any time by clicking the X or just hitting escape. There are a handful of options you can configure if you want to in settings.
The shortcut guide is a nice little utility that shows common Windows shortcuts in an overlay. You can activate this by pressing
⊞ Win+Shift+/ or
⊞ Win+Shift+? If you’re looking for the forward slash. From here you can see all of the items you can lunch by pressing the
⊞ Win + the key you see on the screen. For example, it says the emoji panel can be opened with
;, so all we need to do is press
⊞ Win+;. Feel free to explore the other shortcuts on the screen.
Text extractor is a great utility to extract text from any image and copy it to your clipboard. It uses OCR to do this and it actually works pretty good. THis is great when you want to quickly grab text from an image or a screenshot. To activate it all you need to do it press
⊞ Win+Shift+T and then with your crosshair select the area that you want to extra text from. After selecting it will be copied to your clipboard where you can paste it. The text extractor can only extract languages that have the OCR language pack installed, so if you need to install additional languages I’ll have a link in my documentation on how to do that.
Now this PowerToy is in legacy mode meaning they won’t release any updates to it but it’s worth mentioning because it’s still available. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this go away since Windows is starting to support this natively without this Power Toy. Anyway…
First you’ll need to be sure you run Power Toys as Administrator. You’ll need to close it first, then right-click and run as administrator. After you do this and visit the Video Conference Mute section you will see shortcuts for muting the camera and microphone.
To mute both your camera and microphone you can press
⊞ Win+Shift+Q and you will see a little bar appear that shows that both are muted. You can press this combination again to toggle them both on. To toggle just the microphone you press
⊞ Win+Shift+A and to toggle the just the camera it’s
⊞ Win+Shift+O. If you want toi mute your microphone and toggle it only when you want to speak, you can use the push to talk feature by pressing
⊞ Win+Shift+I. This will unmute your microphone when you are holding this combination of keys. Again, this is a legacy feature that I personally don’t use but I want to cover it for completeness.
I hope you can see how powerful the Windows Power Toys are and how they can help you be more efficient at using Windows. There are so many useful utilities in this suite and more being added with each new release. I learned quite a few new shortcuts, and new ways of working on Windows, and I hope you learned something too! And remember if you found anything in this post helpful, don’t forget to share!
Over the last few weeks I dove deep into PowerToys (open source utilities for Windows) and learned how to be more productive using Windows. Finally, a decent app launcher, color pickers, remote controlling multiple machines, and more!— Techno Tim (@TechnoTimLive) August 20, 2023
Check it out!
⚙️ See all the hardware I recommend at https://l.technotim.live/gear
🚀 Don’t forget to check out the 🚀Launchpad repo with all of the quick start source files