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No matter how many features Microsoft crams into its operating system, there will always be users looking for a faster, better or different way of doing things — one example of Microsoft’s acknowledgment of this behavior is Microsoft PowerToys. This free download can manage application windows, rename files in bulk, preview file contents and more.

This TechRepublic cheat sheet describes each available tool or feature provided by Microsoft PowerToys and describes what each system utility can do.

When was Microsoft PowerToys first made available?

This set of slightly unusual free Windows tools has been a part of the Windows operating system landscape since Windows 95. That first set of 15 free utilities were published and endorsed by Microsoft and made available in a free download. Their availability was noticeably absent for Windows 10 and Windows 11 — at least until September 2019.

With the general release of Microsoft Windows 11, developers now refer to this project as Microsoft PowerToys rather than Windows 10 PowerToys.

From the beginning, PowerToys were designed for “power users” who were seeking ways to tweak how the operating system functions. In some cases, inexperienced users were able to make a careless change while using a PowerToys utility, which could wreak havoc within the Windows operating system; as such, novice users have often been encouraged to use caution.

For the most part, though, PowerToys has allowed users — whether they considered themselves power users or not — to more easily make tweaks to the look and feel of Windows without a deep dive into configuration screens or the dreaded and dangerous edit of the Windows Registry file.

Even in the earliest iterations of PowerToys, Microsoft offered users many valuable functionalities. Windows 95 PowerToys included:

  • TweakUI was used for tweaking obscure Windows settings.
  • CD Autoplay allowed all CDs to autoplay, not just audio CDs.
  • Command Prompt Here opened a command prompt in the current directory.
  • Explore from Here opened File Explorer in the current directory.
  • FlexiCD allowed users to control audio CDs from the Taskbar.
  • Xmouse 1.2 allowed users to change window focus by moving the mouse cursor, no click needed.

Through the years and various Windows versions, individual PowerToys have come and gone. Each Windows version inspired a new set of tools based on what developers perceived was needed to improve and enhance that version.

Why are Microsoft PowerToys important?

Microsoft PowerToys provide tools and features that can make users of the Windows operating system more productive and, by extension, happier. Over the years, many users have come to depend on one or more of these PowerToys for their daily computer productivity. For many power users, PowerToys improve their quality of work and life.

SEE: Secure Windows 11 systems with this checklist from TechRepublic Premium.

Beyond making users more productive, PowerToys have also provided a glimpse into what features and tools could and should become an integral part of the Windows operating system in the future. Many of these once-separate tools have become just another part of the operating system during its next iteration.

How can I get Microsoft PowerToys?

Traditionally, each of the Microsoft PowerToys has been offered as a separate executable file, available as a free download from a specific Microsoft website.

For Windows 10 and Windows 11, Microsoft has taken a slightly different approach. All Windows 10 and Windows 11 PowerToys are now included as part of a free downloadable system that users can configure. Figure A shows you what the Microsoft PowerToys system looks like.

Figure A

What the Windows PowerToys system looks like.
The PowerToys system. This image represents an older version, but the basic functioning remains the same. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

The newest version of Microsoft PowerToys is v0.79.0, available on GitHub now. Release 0.79.0 adds new features to Keyboard Manager, a Modernized Color Picker with Fluent UX, stability and other improvements. The new release adds File Locksmith as an entry in the Windows 11 tier 1 context menu and upgrades Peek to be able to preview drives.

These PowerToys are currently available:

  • Always On Top.
  • Awake.
  • Color Picker.
  • Command Not Found.
  • Crop and Lock.
  • Environment Variables.
  • FancyZones.
  • Preview pane and thumbnail rendering for File Explorer.
  • File Locksmith.
  • Hosts File Editor.
  • Image Resizer.
  • Keyboard Manager.
  • Mouse utilities.
  • Mouse Without Borders.
  • Paste as Plain Text.
  • Peek.
  • PowerRename.
  • PowerToys Run.
  • Quick Accent.
  • Registry Preview.
  • Screen Ruler.
  • Shortcut Guide.
  • Text Extractor.
  • Video Conference Mute.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and smart person’s guides

What can Microsoft PowerToys do?

Here is a list of available Microsoft PowerToys with a brief description of what each toy does.

FancyZones

FancyZones allows users to manage where and how each application window that is open on a Windows desktop will display.

SEE: Windows 11 brings the Copilot AI assistant along with it. (TechRepublic)

For example, you could use FancyZones to set up a Windows 10 desktop where Outlook always displays on the right-hand side of the desktop, Twitter or other social media always displays on the left-hand side of the desktop, and Word or Excel always displays in the middle between the other two. There would be three distinct and perpetual zones displayed at all times (Figure B).

Figure B

The FancyZones menu shows layout options
The FancyZones menu shows layout options. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Windows key Shortcut Guide

The Windows key Shortcut Guide displays all of the available keyboard shortcuts for the current Windows desktop (Figure C). This PowerToy is activated by holding the Windows key down for the length of time specified in the tool’s configuration settings. The default is 900ms.

With this feature, users don’t have to remember so many Windows key-related shortcut combinations.

Figure C

Windows key Shortcut Guide.
The Shortcut Guide conveniently displays useful key combinations. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

PowerRename

The PowerRename Windows PowerToy provides users with advanced tools for bulk renaming of files. The toy extends the Windows Shell Context Menu to add an entry for PowerRename to File Explorer (Figure D).

Figure D

PowerRename.
The PowerRename menu allows for bulk renaming of files. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

With PowerRename enabled, simple search and replace or more powerful regular expression matching are added to your toolset for the bulk renaming process. A preview area is displayed as you perform search and replace procedures, so you can see how file names will change before initiating the action.

SEE: How to batch rename files in Windows 10 with the PowerToys PowerRename tool 

Preview Pane add-ons for File Explorer

This Windows PowerToy expands on the Preview Pane feature already available in the standard File Explorer application by adding additional file types. Preview Pane add-ons for File Explorer allow users to preview the contents of a file after clicking it in File Explorer without actually opening the file (Figure E).

Figure E

PowerPane shows a preview of a file.
PowerPane shows a preview of a file. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Version 0.16.0 adds preview support for Scalable Vector Graphics (.svg) and Markdown (.md) files. Subsequent PowerToys releases have added more file types including source code files and geometric code.

Image Resizer

The Image Resizer Windows PowerToy adds more functionality to File Explorer by allowing users to apply bulk image resizing. Users can select images in File Explorer and then select the new Resize Pictures item on the context menu, revealed with a right-click on any image (Figure F).

Figure F

Image Resizer.
The Image Resizer menu shows options for bulk resizing. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Window Walker

The Window Walker Windows PowerToy is designed to be an alternative to the standard Alt-Tab feature in Windows 10 and Windows 11. Users press the CTRL-Windows key combination instead of Alt-Tab to pull up a search box (Figure G). Users then enter keywords into the search box to narrow down the currently open apps and screens on their desktop.

Figure G

Windows Walker.
Window Walker adds a search box to the Alt-Tab feature. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

SEE: How to find open apps with the Window Walker tool in Windows 10 PowerToys

PowerToys Run

PowerToys Run acts as a quick launcher on Windows. It is another extension of the ALT-Tab concept and taps into the Windows file indexing system. To activate the tool, use the keyboard combination ALT-Space and start typing the name of your desired application (Figure H).

Figure H

PowerToys Run.
The PowerToys Run menu lets users launch applications quickly. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

PowerToys Run will search the system and start listing possible applications based on your search phrase. When the application you desire appears, click or tap to run.

SEE: How to use Windows 10 PowerToys Run to open applications, folders, and files

Keyboard Manager

The Keyboard Manager application in Microsoft PowerToys is a simple keyboard remapper. Run the application from the PowerToys menu (Figure I) and either remap a single key on your keyboard or remap a shortcut keyboard combination. Whatever you remap will remain active as long as Keyboard Manager is enabled and PowerToys is running in the background.

Figure I

Keyboard Manager.
The Keyboard Manager menu shows keyboard remapping options. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Color Picker

Color Picker was contributed to the Microsoft PowerToys project by Martin Chrzan. The utility allows you to identify any color on your screen by either its HEX or RGB code and then save that information to the Windows clipboard for later use (Figure J). It is a simple tool, but it can save time and prevent frustration for developers and content creators working on color design.

Figure J

The Color Picker menu allows users to identify and save colors from any image on their screen.
The Color Picker menu allows users to identify and save colors from any image on their screen. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Video Conference Mute

As a number of organizations shifted to remote work structures during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us now rely on video teleconferencing for work and school interactions and collaboration. The Video Conference Mute tool in Microsoft PowerToys allows you to mute the audio and video on your PC with a single key combination (Figure K).

Figure K

The Video Conference PowerToy menu lets users customize microphone and mute hotkeys.
The Video Conference PowerToy menu lets users customize microphone and mute hotkeys. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

You may mute both audio and video at the same time or independently. The same key combination will toggle the audio and video back to the on position. The Video Conference Mute tool works regardless of what app you are using or what app is currently in the foreground.

Awake

The Microsoft PowerToys tool Awake was contributed to the PowerToys project by the community, with attribution given to Den Delimarsky. Awake allows users to keep their computer awake on-demand without having to manage its power settings (Figure L).

Figure L

The Awake PowerToy provides ways to change the PC’s behavior in terms of when the PC stays awake.
The Awake PowerToy provides ways to change the PC’s behavior in terms of when the PC stays awake. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Mouse utilities

Mouse utilities were contributed to the Microsoft PowerToys project by Raymond Chen. Mouse utilities include a collection of features that enhance the mouse and cursor functionality on Windows systems.

With two consecutive presses of the Left CTRL key, Find My Mouse will locate your mouse cursor and highlight its current position with a halo (Figure M). Pressing the Esc key will dismiss the highlight. The Find My Mouse feature is useful for presentations on large displays when you want to draw the audience’s attention to a specific area of the screen.

Figure M

Mouse Utilities allows the user to turn on Find My Mouse. There is also a selection for whether or not to keep Find My Mouse on during Game Mode
Mouse Utilities allows the user to turn on Find My Mouse. There is also a selection for whether or not to keep Find My Mouse on during Game Mode. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Always on Top

Always on Top allows users to designate the application window currently in focus as “always on top” with a keyboard shortcut toggle (Figure N).

Figure N

The Always On Top PowerToy opens up a menu with a few options: enabling Always On Top, customizing the shortcut and specifying whether or not to use Always On Top during Game Mode.
The Always On Top PowerToy opens up a menu with a few options: enabling Always On Top, customizing the shortcut and specifying whether or not to use Always On Top during Game Mode. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Regardless of what commands, mouse clicks or other inputs are made from that point on, the designated window will remain at the forefront, superseding any other open windows until Always on Top is toggled off. The default keyboard shortcut for the Always on Top toggle is Windows Key + CTRL + T.

Screen Ruler

The Microsoft PowerToys utility Screen Ruler is a quick and easy way to measure the pixels represented on your display screen (Figure O). The tool is perfect for determining the pixel size of a potential screen capture or for lining up objects in a document.

Figure O

The Screen Rules menu and shortcut options can be found in the PowerToys setting menu.
The Screen Rules menu and shortcut options can be found in the PowerToys setting menu. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Quick Accent

Quick Accent is an alternative way to type accented characters, which is useful for when a keyboard doesn’t support that specific accent with a quick key combo (Figure P). Use this utility to create accented characters, especially for writing in languages other than English.

Figure P

If you want to type accented characters without a specific keyboard that contains them, open the Quick Accent menu in PowerToys.
If you want to type accented characters without a specific keyboard that contains them, open the Quick Accent menu in PowerToys. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Text Extractor

The Microsoft PowerToys utility Text Extractor is a convenient way to copy text from anywhere on your screen (Figure Q). This code is based on Joe Finney’s Text Grab. Text Extractor uses optical character recognition to read the text on the screen, so it may require editing or proofreading.

Figure Q

The Text Extractor menu allows users to activate the tool to highlight and copy text from any source.
The Text Extractor menu allows users to activate the tool to highlight and copy text from any source. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

File Locksmith

The Microsoft PowerToys utility File Locksmith is a Windows shell extension for checking what files are in use and by which processes (Figure R). After installing, right-click on one or more selected files in File Explorer, and then select “What’s using this file?” from the context menu.

Figure R

The information in File Locksmith is accessed by right clicking a file in File Explorer.
The information in File Locksmith is accessed by right clicking a file in File Explorer. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Hosts File Editor

The Window PowerToys utility Hosts File Editor is a quick and simple utility for editing a local hosts file (Figure S). Note that the application will only work if a hosts file exists.

Figure S

Explore Hosts File Editor in the PowerToys menu if you work with local hosts files.
Explore Hosts File Editor in the PowerToys menu if you work with local hosts files. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Mouse Jump

The Microsoft PowerToys utility Mouse Jump is a new feature for the existing set of mouse utilities (Figure T). Mouse Jump allows you to instantly move the mouse pointer great distances on the same screen and even jump from one screen to another, if you wish.

Figure T

The red box in this image spotlights the Mouse Jump menu, including the activation shortcut.
The red box in this image spotlights the Mouse Jump menu, including the activation shortcut. Image: Mark W. Kaelin/TechRepublic

Paste as Text

The Window PowerToys utility Paste as Text is a keyboard combination shortcut that allows users to paste formatted clipboard contents as plain, unformatted text (Figure U). Using this tool will also replace the formatted text with plain text in the clipboard, so users can always paste as text.

Figure U

The Paste as Plain Text menu clears up any formatting problems that may come from carrying font formats across applications.
The Paste as Plain Text menu clears up any formatting problems that may come from carrying font formats across applications. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Registry Preview

PowerToys Registry Preview, released in Version 0.69.0, is designed to simplify the process of visualizing and editing Windows Registry files (Figure V). The utility app also allows you to write registry changes directly to the Windows Registry file without using the standard Regedit app that comes built into the Windows operating system.

Figure V

Open the Registry Preview utility from the PowerToys menu.
Open the Registry Preview utility from the PowerToys menu. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Mouse Without Borders

PowerToys Mouse Without Borders, released in Version 0.70.0, gives users the ability to interact with other computers using the same keyboard and mouse they are using for their current PC (Figure W). With Mouse Without Borders, users can also share clipboards and files between the machines. Control of the other computers is granted using an encryption key.

Figure W

Note the options in the Mouse Without Borders menu for selecting different devices to move the cursor across. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic
Note the options in the Mouse Without Borders menu for selecting different devices to move the cursor across. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Peek

Peek, released in Version 0.70.0, allows users to see a quick preview of files they select in File Explorer when they press a specified keyboard shortcut (Figure X). The keyboard shortcut can be modified to a user’s preference.

Figure X

Peek into the PowerToys menu.
Peek into the PowerToys menu. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Crop And Lock

PowerToys Crop And Lock, released in Version 0.73.0, allows users to crop a current application into a smaller window or create a thumbnail (Figure Y). The utility allows you to focus attention on a specific section of an application window without shutting down the application’s running functions. Essentially, from the application’s perspective, the window is normal, but from the user’s perspective, the window is smaller or thumbnail size.

Figure Y 

In the Crop and Lock menu you can find some shortcut options to customize a shortcut for the PowerToy.
In the Crop and Lock menu you can find some shortcut options to customize a shortcut for the PowerToy. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Environment Variables

PowerToys Environment Variables, released in Version 0.75.0, allows users to add, change and apply profiles, user information and Windows system setting variables (Figure Z). The tool is particularly useful for software engineers, programmers and other IT professionals when testing and iterating applications, platforms and systems during the development process.

Figure Z

The PowerToys Environment Variables settings screen.
The PowerToys Environment Variables settings screen. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

Are more Microsoft PowerToys coming soon?

New Microsoft PowerToys are periodically added to the Windows library to address new user expectations and requirements. As new PowerToys are released, this list of available tools will be updated to reflect that expansion.

Does Microsoft PowerToys impact performance?

PowerToys can impact performance. In general, the amount of RAM required by PowerToys apps is significant enough that you should activate only the tools you are actually using. If you determine an app is not something you use on a regular basis, it may be advantageous to set it to the “off” position; you can always turn it on again when you need it.

The amount of RAM Microsoft PowerToys uses is entirely dependent on how many tools and apps you have decided to run in the background. The PowerToys Settings app, which runs in the background and can be accessed from the Windows 11 system tray, requires about 104 MB of RAM. Each additional running app requires more RAM to support it, which you can gauge for yourself in Windows Task Manager (Figure AA).

Figure AA

The Task Manager reveals the amount of RAM used by PowerToys.
The Task Manager reveals the amount of RAM used by PowerToys. Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

In general, the amount of RAM required by PowerToys apps is significant enough that you should activate only the tools you are actually using. If you determine an app is not something you use on a regular basis, it may be advantageous to set it to the “off” position. You can always turn it on again when you need it.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect the latest version of Microsoft PowerToys.


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