The complete guide to Microsoft PowerToys (2024)

With 22 utilities and counting, Microsoft PowerToys is an increasingly useful selection of tools to help improve how Windows works for you! Here's what you need to know!

Microsoft continues to play with the Windows experience in its updated suite of PowerToys utilities. The latest iteration, Microsoft PowerToys 0.79, introduces several tools to help improve Windows’s functionality and user experience.

Keep reading for the low-down on each of the 22 (and counting) tools available in Microsoft PowerToys, including the new utility called Crop and Lock.

How to install Microsoft PowerToys

Don’t you wish there was an easy way of keeping apps on top of the screen or stopping your computer going to sleep in the middle of uploading a video to YouTube?

And how awesome would it be if you could mute yourself or switch off your camera during a video conference call using the same two keyboard shortcuts, no matter which service you’re using?

Microsoft’s released some new toys to make Windows that little bit nicer to work with! And we’re going to go through them all.

If you don’t have PowerToys installed, just launch the MICROSOFT STORE, search POWERTOYS in the search bar, and hit the INSTALL button.

Once PowerToys has installed itself, it’ll be in the START MENU, right at the top, as a recently installed app. If it’s not there, you can always just search for it.

Let’s have a look inside!

General settings

Opening up PowerToys, we start in the GENERAL settings menu. There’s nothing much to do here, except to make sure RUN AT STARTUP is switched ON.

Down the left-hand column, you’ll see each of the different toys. This is where you go to activate and configure each toy.

Always On Top

Microsoft PowerToys - Always On Top

The first one is Always On Top. This one is great for keeping one window on top of all the other ones. Like if you’re using the calculator to crunch numbers from a different window.

You’ll see that it’s already enabled for us right here. To activate Always On Top, the default key combination is WINDOWS or START, CONTROL and T together.

If you don’t like that key combo, just click the PENCIL to change it.

Let’s open CALCULATOR and have a look at how Always On Top works.

Press the shortcut keys – WINDOWS, CONTROL and T – while Calculator is active and you’ll see a thick coloured border around it. Now, you can open other apps and work in those, but Calculator will stay on top.

To switch Always On Top off again, just hit the same key combo while you’re in Calculator. You’ll see the border disappear again.

Aside from the key combo, you can tweak a few other settings for Always On Top as well. You can change the colour and thickness of the border – I set mine to green. You can switch off the sound that plays when you activate Always On Top, and you can exclude apps that you don’t want to ever pin on top.

Awake

Microsoft PowerToys - Awake

The next toy we’ll look at is called AWAKE.

This one is simply a quick and easy way to stop your computer from going to sleep without having to mess around with power plans.

When ENABLE AWAKE is toggled ON, the selection you make in MODE will decide if your computer will actually go to sleep.

Right now, the mode is set to KEEP USING THE SELECTED POWER PLAN, meaning that if the power plan says my computer will go to sleep after five minutes of not being used, then that’s what will happen.

If I change the mode to KEEP AWAKE INDEFINITELY, PowerToys will keep the computer awake until you switch ENABLE AWAKE OFF.

So, if you set the computer to do something that takes a while, like rendering a video or uploading a large file to the internet, your computer will not go to sleep in the middle of the job.

The third mode is KEEP AWAKE TEMPORARILY. Selecting that, you get another setting where you tell PowerToys how long you want to override the power plan and keep the computer awake. If you set it to two hours, then after that period of time has passed, PowerToys will stop overriding the power plan.

The last setting here is whether you want to keep the screen on. If you toggle KEEP SCREEN ON to… ON… Then the screen will stay on when you’re not using the computer.

Color Picker

Microsoft PowerToys - Color Picker

This next toy is one of my favourites! Let’s check out COLOR PICKER.

It’s active right out of the gate, and the key combo to use for this one is WINDOWS, SHIFT and C together. If you don’t like that key combo you can change it from the PENCIL button here.

The Color Picker is great for getting the colour code for any colour anywhere on your screen. This is super useful if you’re a designer, photographer or just anyone who works with colours and design on your computer.

By default, Color Picker will give you the HEX colour code, which is what web designers normally use for designing websites. You can also grab a bunch of different colour formats, all of which will result in the same colour.

By default, RGB (that’s red, green, blue) and HSL (which is hue, saturation, lightness) are also switched on. But you can get other color formats as well, like CMYK, which is great to have if you do a lot of printing.

Let’s take Color Picker for a spin!

I really like the colour scheme of my desktop background, so I want to grab the color codes for the main colours, so that I can use those to draw a picture for myself in Photoshop.

Let’s hit WINDOWS, SHIFT and C. That activates the colour picker. You’ll see the mouse cursor changes into a pipette. That means we’re ready to select colours.

As I hover over different colours, you’ll see the HEX colour code change, and it’ll also tell you what that colour is called.

Once I click on a colour, the colour editor launches. This is where you can grab all those other colour formats I mentioned earlier.

You can also click on the slightly lighter or darker colours on either side here to get the colour codes for those instead.

And you’ll see the editor will remember the last few colours you picked down the side here.

Crop and Lock

With Crop and Lock, you can crop an application window into a smaller window.

This is quite smart actually, and something we didn’t even realise we wanted until we saw it… It isn’t a resize tool. Instead, it’s a proper cropping tool which will essentially hide unwanted parts of an application window, freeing up desktop space for other windows.

Say, for example, you’re reading through a webpage containing instructions for how to operate PowerToys. But, you need to free up space on your screen for the actual PowerToys window. Use Crop and Lock to crop the browser window so that you’re only seeing the text of the page and not the space-wasting left-hand navigation menu.

You can take this one for a spin by using shortcut keys WINDOWS, CTRL, SHIFT and T, and WINDOWS, CTRL, SHIFT and R.

FancyZones

Microsoft PowerToys - FancyZones

With FancyZones you can create window layouts to help organise “multiple windows on your screen. It works by letting you divide the desktop into zones for where your app windows will go. Windows 11 has some elements of FancyZones built into it, so this tool might not be too useful if you’re on Win 11. But Windows 10 users may find this quite useful!

When FancyZones is on, the activation shortcut WINDOWS, SHIFT and BACKTICK will launch the layout editor. Backtick is the symbol that looks like a slanting quotation mark, next to the number one on English keyboards.

You use the layout editor to select or make your own screen layout.

By default, you can snap windows to a FancyZone by holding the SHIFT key down while dragging a window, but you can change that behaviour and a bunch of other settings in PowerToys.

File Locksmith

Microsoft PowerToys - File Locksmith

The File Locksmith utility lets you see which computer processes are using any file or folder on your computer. This is particularly useful if an app or a process is locking a file and refusing you access to – for example – rename or delete a file.

Once you’ve switched on File Locksmith, you can right-click any file in File Explorer, click on SHOW MORE OPTIONS (if you’re using Windows 11) and then select WHAT’S USING THIS FILE in the contex menu.

This opens a new window showing which – if any – processes are accessing the file.

Aside from showing you this information, File Locksmith also lets you end any processes that are accessing the file, so that you can make whatever changes you require. To do this, just click the END TASK button next to each process showing in the File Locksmith window.

But, beware, ending tasks and processes abruptly can sometimes cause unexpected behaviour by your computer.

File Explorer add-ons

Microsoft PowerToys - File Explorer add-ons

In the File Explorer section, you can set up previews of various file types either in place of the file icon itself or in a special preview pane.

Some of the file formats available here – like markdown and Python files – might not be for everyone, but I do find especially the PDF preview to be useful.

Once you’ve flicked the toggles on for either the preview pane or icon preview – or both – you can preview the files in Explorer without launching the apps.

Hosts File Editor

Microsoft PowerToys - Hosts File Editor

The Hosts File Editor allows you to edit your .hosts file, which is a file that helps your computer match domain names to IP addresses. By editing this file, you can make up your very own domain names to access devices on your local network.

As an example, instead of typing 192.168.0.1 or 10.1.1.1 in your browser to access your wifi router admin interface, you can use your .hosts file to give your router a domain name, like https://wifi.router.

Once you’ve enabled Hosts File Editor in PowerToys, you can click LAUNCH HOST FILE EDITOR to bring up a new view of your .hosts file that contains all current entries in that file. You can toggle each individual entry on and off, delete existing entries and add new ones.

The Hosts File Editor is very useful for anyone that regularly needs to edit the .hosts file on their computer as it does away with the need to open the .hosts file as an administrator. PowerToys takes care of this for you. But, as always when you’re tinkering with important system files, be careful!

Image Resizer

Microsoft PowerToys - Image Resizer

For anyone working with images and graphics, the Image Resizer is an excellent little toy.

Long story short, it lets you resize images with just a couple of mouse clicks. No Photoshop or any other image editing app required.

In PowerToys, you set up some pre-determined image sizes and then Image Resizer will resize any image you want to fit within these dimensions.

The small, medium, large and phone presets should be the default sizes when you install PowerToys. So for example, if I want to resize a photo to medium size, it will be no more than 1366 pixels wide and 768 pixels high.

Keep in mind, that those are the maximum width and height. So if you have a vertical photo, it will be resized to 768 pixels high while the width will be less than that.

To resize an image, just right click and select RESIZE PICTURES. That will bring up a dialogue box where you can select the size you want, and also a few other options like removing metadata or whether you want to increase the image size if it’s smaller than the size you wanted.

Keyboard Manager

Microsoft PowerToys - Keyboard Manager

With Keyboard Manager you can change what your keyboard keys do.

This can sometimes be useful if you use keyboard shortcuts. Or, if you want to mess with someone’s head.

I couldn’t possibly think why you’d want to do this, but to change a key to something else, just click REMAP A KEY. Then you enter the key you want to change – like D – and what you want to change it to – like an F.

And there you go – hours of fun to be had.

I’M GOING TO *UCK OFF NOW

Mouse Utilities

Microsoft PowerToys - Mouse Utilities

The next PowerToy is an absolute godsend for screen sharing and tutorials such as this one. Notice how my mouse pointer lights up when I click a mouse button? That’s thanks to Mouse Highlighter!

Mouse Highlighter gives you a way to easily find your mouse pointer – or in the case of screen recordings, a great way to highlight something on the screen.

By default, you just click the left CTRL or CONTROL button twice and that will dim the screen except for a circle around the pointer.

Mouse highlighter will highlight mouse clicks. The default shortcut to turn that on is WINDOWS, SHIFT and H. With that on, your cursor will light up whenever you click a mouse button, which is heaps useful when you record tech tutorials like this one.

The last little tool in this section is mouse pointer cross hairs. CTRL, ALT and P will turn that on, and it puts your cursor in the centre of crosshairs that will follow the cursor around the screen.

You can tweak the look and behaviour all these mouse tools by clicking APPEARANCE & BEHAVIOR, so for example you can change the colour of your mouse button clicks.

Mouse Without Borders

Microsoft PowerToys - Mouse Without Borders

This utility is new in PowerToys but it has been around for ages! Years ago, in a previous job, I used Mouse Without Borders to control two computers running a giant display wall using the mouse and keyboard of a third computer. At that time, it was a standalone app. Now it’s finally part of MS PowerToys!

Long story short, Mouse Without Borders lets you move your mouse cursor between multiple computers on the same network just like you would between multiple screens hooked up to the same computer.

Simply enable Mouse Without Borders on both (or all) machines that you want to control with a single mouse and keyboard. From there, you can choose the order in which the computers appear. For example, moving the mouse off the left side of the screen on computer 1 can get you onto the screen on computer 2.

To avoid accidentally moving onto another computer, you can set an option where you have to hold down SHIFT or CTRL to move across to the next computer.

Aside from letting you control multiple computers with the same mouse, Mouse Without Borders also lets you copy/past text and files (as long as they’re less than 100 megabytes) from one computer to the other.

Paste As Plain Text

Microsoft PowerToys - Paste As Plain Text

This one is really straightforward, and very useful. When you copy paste text from one app to another, Windows will normally also include any formatting. This doesn’t always work so great if the receiving app doesn’t like or can’t handle the formatting from the sending app.

When you enable Paste As Plain Text, you can use a keyboard shortcut to only paste the text you copied but none of the formatting. This is great, as it does away with the intermediate step of pasting text into a plain text editor like Notepad to remove formatting.

If you don’t like the default keyboard shortcut to paste as plain text, you can change it. I set mine to CTRL + SHIFT + V, which matches the plain text pasting shortcut in the Chrome web browser.

Peek

Microsoft PowerToys - Peek

The Peek utility let’s you sneak a peek – or preview – files in File Explorer. Once you’ve enabled Peek, simply select a file, then press CTRL + SPACE to get a preview of the file. And yes, you can change the shortcut if you like.

PowerRename

Microsoft PowerToys - PowerRename

If you rename files all the time, then PowerRename will quite possibly be your new best friend.

To put it simply, it’s a search and replace tool where you can rename a bunch of files by searching for and replacing words or characters in the file name.

It goes way beyond that… But here’s an example.

I’m going to rename these files, so I highlight them, then right click and select POWER RENAME.

In the window, I can put in the keyword I want to replace – for example IMG – and then what I want to replace it with – like IMAGE.

You can see on the right here what the resulting file name will be.

You can also use Regex to turbocharge your file renaming. If you want to try it out, tick the USE REGULAR EXPRESSIONS checkbox and then use Regex operators to control the renaming.

You can click the info bubble here to see all the Regex operators. But, here’s a quick one for you:

The CARET ^ character is Regex for “starting with”. So if I simply put a CARET in the SEARCH FOR field, then whatever I put in REPLACE WITH will be added to the start of the file name. And that, my friends, is super handy!

PowerToys Run

Microsoft PowerToys - PowerToys Run

PowerToys Run is a quick launcher that will let you run apps and a bunch of different commands from a simple text field.

When it’s enabled, the default keyboard shortcut to launch PowerToys Run is ALT and SPACE.

From here, type in the app you want to run, like CHROME.

Or you can do some math – three plus three equals six.

There’s a bunch of other functionality too, like the UNIT CONVERTER, which lets you convert for example feet to metres if you’re metrically challenged.

By default, you have to type in PERCENT PERCENT to use the unit converter, but you can tweak how that and the other plugins work by expanding the plugin like this.

So if I don’t want to have to type the percentage signs, I can just tick the INCLUDE IN GLOBAL RESULT box, and then next time I need to convert a unit, I can just type away and the result will show up below.

Quick Accent

Microsoft PowerToys - Quick Accent

Do you speak and write multiple languages? With Quick Accent you can quickly add accents to characters even if the keyboard you use doesn’t support that particular accent.

Of course, if you’re typing in a particular language, it’s always best to have your keyboard set to that language. But if you’re writing in – say, English – about the Swedish autonomous region of Åland, then typing that å just got a lot easier.

Once you’ve enabled Quick Accent, hold down the target letter – in this case a – and press either the LEFT ARROW, RIGHT ARROW or SPACE button. This brings up a context menu at the top of your screen, where – while still holding down the target letter key – you can select the relevant accent using the LEFT and RIGHT ARROW keys. When you let go of the letter key, the currently selected accent is added.

To cut down on the number of accents you can choose from, it’s possible to select a single language only.

Registry Preview

Microsoft PowerToys - Registry Preview

The Registry Preview utility does a little bit more than the name suggests. Aside from previewing a registry file, it also lets you visualise and edit complex registry files, and write those changes to your computer’s registry.

To get started, just flick Enable Registry Preview to ON in PowerToys, then click LAUNCH REGISTRY PREVIEW.

Remember that any changes you make to your computer’s registry can break Windows. So, handle with care!

Screen Ruler

Microsoft PowerToys - Screen Ruler

With Screen Ruler you can measure pixels on your screen. This is handy for designers and others that often need to know how many pixels apart two objects are on the screen.

Once enabled, the keyboard shortcut WINDOWS + SHIFT + M brings up a few buttons that let you measure the horizontal and/or vertical distance between two objects (or even letters) on screen. You can also measure the area (square pixels!) of a particular region on the screen.

Screen Ruler uses edge detection to measure pixel distances, and you can adjust how this detection works in the Screen Ruler settings.

Shortcut Guide

Microsoft PowerToys - Shortcut Guide

Windows contains a lot of useful shortcuts that hardly anybody uses. But fear not. With the PowerToys Shortcut Guide, you can get a list of useful Windows keyboard shortcuts with the help of… Another keyboard shortcut.

The shortcut to rule them all is WINDOWS, SHIFT and FORWARD SLASH.

All of the shortcuts you see here work in combination with the WINDOWS or START key on your keyboard. So for example WINDOWS and P will let you extend your desktop to multiple displays if you have more than one hooked up to your computer.

While WINDOWS and L is a quick way to lock your computer so that nobody can send interesting emails from your work computer while you’re hanging out at the water cooler.

Text Extractor

Microsoft PowerToys - Text Extractor

This neat little utility uses optical character recognition (OCR) to copy text from anywhere on your screen, including in images.

It works with any language installed on your computer, as long as the OCR pack for that language exists and is installed.

Once enabled, the shortcut WINDOWS + SHIFT + T (can be changed) brings up a screen capture like inteface that lets you draw a box across the text you want to extract.

The text – as interpreted by OCR – is copied onto your computer’s clipboard. Use the normal CTRL + V shortcut to paste the text where you need it.

Video Conference Mute

Microsoft PowerToys - Video Conference Mute
This utility is moving into 'legacy mode', meaning it will only be maintained but not updated further. I guess we finally - after a decade - evolved to get better at muting and unmuting ourselves in online meetings when required. (NOT!)

Finally, a very useful tool now that we all use multiple online meeting apps all with different shortcuts for muting your camera or microphone.

Video Conference Mute gives you a system-wide keyboard combo for killing the microphone or camera quickly.

So, if we switch this on, then next time you’re on a Zoom call or Teams meeting, just hit WINDOWS, SHIFT and A to turn of your microphone. Because A for audio, I guess…

You can tweak the keyboard shortcuts via the pencil button here.

Before you go ahead and try this out, make sure to select your microphone and camera in the settings, so the PowerToys knows which device to mute.

Video

We made a video about MS PowerToys back when there were only 12 utilities. Watch it here!

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Marius
Mariushttps://goodgeeky.com
I'm a writer, content creator and all-round creative. When I'm not writing for GoodGeeky, I film and edit YouTube videos, write books (which never seem to get finished), practice martial arts (while trying not to do my knees in or get kicked in the face), build websites and intranets, and work for The Man.