What Is Microsoft PowerToys, and What Are the Best PowerToys Utilities for Windows 10 and Windows 11?

Add more functionality and perform operations efficiently

by: - Last updated on: January 11th, 2022
Key Takeaways
  • PowerToys is a set of freeware utilities from Microsoft for its Windows operating system.
  • PowerToys utilities allow you to automate tasks and perform actions efficiently on your Windows 10 or Windows 11 machine.
  • Using them, you can add more functionality to your system, as well as devise ways to increase your productivity.

Microsoft PowerToys is a collection of utilities for Windows operating systems to help you perform operations more efficiently and streamline your workflow.

Microsoft debuted the first version of PowerToys with Windows 95. A few years later, it released its second iteration with Windows XP, as a separate download. Later, after a lull for a few years, the company eventually released another update to PowerToys in 2019.

Microsoft PowerToys

With the latest release, Microsoft has made PowerToys open-source, opening the door for developers to collaborate and build better and more functional utilities for the platform.

Currently, PowerToys offers a bunch of different utilities to help you with various operations on your computer. If you’re on Windows 10 or Windows 11, you can take advantage of these utilities to add better functionality to your system and improve your productivity.

And, to help you with the same, here’s a guide explaining Micorosft PowerToys, the steps to use it, and the essential Micorosft PowerToys utilities you should be using on your Windows 10 or Windows 11 computer.

What Is PowerToys?

PowerToys is a set of freeware utilities from Microsoft for its Windows operating system. Primarily targeted towards power users, these utilities help you automate tasks on your Windows 10 or Windows 11 computer to perform them more efficiently, and in turn, boost your productivity.

In the past, Microsoft PowerToys has been used as a platform to preview certain upcoming features on the Windows operating system. It’s been available via GitHub until Microsoft released Windows 11 in 2021 and listed PowerToys on the Microsoft Store.

Why Do You Need Microsoft PowerToys?

Almost all Windows operating systems, by default, have their own way of performing certain operations. While these native methods work just fine, they are generally inefficient when you need to carry out the same operations repeatedly.

A better way to approach this problem instead—rather than going the manual route to do things the traditional way—is to automate the process. That way, you can accomplish the same operation with fewer steps and utilize your time more effectively.

PowerToys utilities

For instance, if you need to resize a bunch of image files at once, following the traditional approach would take up a lot of your time and effort. A better alternative, instead, would be to use a PowerToys utility like Image Resizer, which can bulk resize images with just a few clicks.

Of course, this is just one of the examples of what you can do with PowerToys, and there are various other operations on Windows 10 and Windows 11 where these utilities can prove to be useful.

How to install and set up PowerToys on Windows 10?

Microsoft PowerToys is now available on both GitHub and Microsoft Store. So depending on your preference, you can install PowerToys on your Windows 10 or Windows 11 PC using either the executable file via GitHub or the Winget Windows Package Manager. Below are the steps to install PowerToys using both these methods.

Install PowerToys on Windows 10 and Windows 11 Via GitHub

Installing Microsoft PowerToys via GitHub is easy. Follow the steps below to do this on your Windows 10/Windows 11 PC:

  1. Head over to Microsoft PowerToys’s Release page on GitHub.
  2. Click on the Assets dropdown menu to reveal PowerToysSetup releases.
  3. Click on PowerToysSetup-0.xx.x-64.exe to download the PowerToys executable installer.
  4. Once the download is complete, open the executable file and follow the on-screen instructions to install PowerToys on your computer.

Install PowerToys on Windows 10 and Windows 11 Using Winget

Winget is a free and open-source package manager for Windows 10 and Windows 11 operating systems that simplifies installing, upgrading, and deleting programs on your computer.

Now that PowerToys is available on the Microsoft Store, you can install it on your computer using Winget, as shown in the following steps. If you’re on Windows 11, Winget is preinstalled on your system, and so you can continue with the steps below right away. On the other hand, if you’re on Windows 10, follow out Winget guide to learn how to install and set it up on Windows 10.

  1. Open the PowerShell or Command Prompt.
  2. Enter the following command and press Enter:
    winget install Microsoft.PowerToys --source winget

How to Run PowerToys on Windows 10 and Windows 11

To run PowerToys, double-click on the app icon or look up PowerToys in the Start menu. As soon as you launch the app, you should be taken to the PowerToys Settings screen. In case you’re not, click on the app icon in the system tray.

Now, on the settings page, click on the Restart as administrator button to run PowerToys as an administrator. This is required for some utilities to function and to change their settings.

Once you have the PowerToys tool set up and running on your computer, you can start using its utilities.

By default, these utilities are disabled, so you need to enable them manually. To do this, click on the utility you want to enable from the left sidebar and toggle the enable button. If you want to change settings for these utilities, this is where you do that as well.

Essential PowerToys Utilities

Now that you have Microsoft PowerToys up and running on your Windows machine, here are all the PowerToys utilities currently offered by Microsoft that you must know about:

1. Color Picker

Color Picker
As its name suggests, the Color Picker utility enables you to pick colors from any focussed app running on your system. If you work with graphics and websites, you may often find the need to check out the color value for different colors. And that is exactly what Color Picker helps you do.

Using Color Pocker is as simple as hitting the Win+Shift+C  keyboard shortcut and hovering your mouse over the color you want to determine. Once you’ve identified the color, you can then right-click on it to copy its code. The copied code gets copied to your clipboard, and you can then paste it anywhere.

Color Picker also allows you to change some of its settings. So if you like to change some of its elements, you can do so from the settings menu. Some of the Color Picker elements you can change are the activation shortcut, default activation behavior, and the default color format.

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2. FancyZonesFancyZones

If you’ve been a macOS user, you’d be aware of the different window manager apps on Mac. However, when it comes to Windows, there aren’t as many good options: while you do get the native utility, Windows Snap, it lacks flexibility and functionality compared to some other window management services. But thanks to PowerToys, you have FancyZones, which is probably one of the most feature-rich and customizable window management utilities for Windows out there.

When you launch FancyZones for the first time, you need to set a layout as your default option. This is the layout that’s automatically used every time you arrange your windows unless you explicitly choose another layout.

Once you’ve set the layout, press the Windows+` shortcut to launch the FancyZones editor. Now, on the layout screen, select a layout and the number of rows and grids you need. Alternatively, you can also select the custom option to create a custom layout for your windows. Finally, press the Shift key and drag the windows to snap them in place on the layout.

3. PowerToys Run

PowerToys Run

PowerToys Run is a quick launcher/search box for Windows that gives you access to various system elements instantly. You can think of it as a Spotlight Search (from macOS), but for the Windows operating system.

With PowerToys Run, you can search and launch apps instantly with the press of a few keys. Not just that, you can also search for files, folders, and running processes right from the quick search window. To perform a search, all you need to do is invoke PowerToys Run using the Alt+Space keys together and enter your query (files, folders, apps, etc.) in the search window.

Besides looking up apps, files, and folders, PowerToys Run can also be used to perform quick calculations. For this, you can simply press the activation shortcut to invoke Run and enter your operations here to get the result. Besides, like any other utility, you can also change a few settings for Run, such as the trigger shortcut and the number of returned search results. [Check out our detailed guide on PowerToys Run.]

4. Shortcut Guide

Shortcut Guide

Shortcut Guide is a simple utility that gives you all the shortcuts for the current state of the desktop on your Windows 10/Windows 11 machine. That way, you can find out the keyboard shortcuts for different apps and services, and eventually, start using them.

To see the key shortcut guide for an app/service, press and hold the Windows key for a second. As soon as you do that, an overlay with the entire list of shortcuts specific to that app/service will pop up on your screen. Make a note of these keyboard shortcuts or take a screenshot to view them later.

Now, similar to how you can change settings for other utilities, Shortcut Guide also offers you a few options to configure to your preference. For instance, if you find the overlay hard to discern from the background, you can change its opacity. Likewise, you can also change the press duration for the trigger key before which the overlay appears to avoid accidental triggers.

5. Image Resizer

ImageResizer

Image Resizer is undoubtedly one of the best PowerToys utilities out there. It simplifies the image resizing process and allows you to resize multiple images at once. That way, you don’t have to do the same operation on multiple images repeatedly.

To bulk-resize images, select the images you want to resize in File Explorer, right-click on them, and select Resize pictures from the menu. As soon as you do that, you get a window with a few different options to change the size, encoding, and filename format for your files. Select the appropriate option to perform your desired operation and hit Ok.

Alongside offering you the ability to select the image size and other settings for your images, Image Resizer also has a dedicated settings page to customize certain elements. From here, you can add new preset sizes, change the encoding options (along with the image quality, interlacing, and compression settings), and also customize the filename format to your preference.

6. PowerRename

PowerRename
Much like ImageResizer, PowerRename is another useful PowerToys utility. It can help you with bulk operations on your system. If you’re someone whose work involves working with a lot of files and folders, one of the most tedious operations is bulk renaming files. While there’s a native solution to this problem on both Windows 10 and Windows 11, it doesn’t provide much control over file names and restricts your ability to perform search and rename operations.

PowerRename, on the other hand, allows you to easily bulk rename files and folders on your computer. Its advanced set of options provides you the ability to modify files names of multiple files (without having to rename all of them), search and replace specific parts of file names, use regular expression RegEx to find files based on your criteria, and more.

7. Keyboard Manager

Keyboard Manager

If you prefer performing operations using your keyboard—and rely on hotkeys—the Keyboard Manager utility is what you need. Using it, you can reconfigure your keyboard and remap its keys and shortcuts. That way, you can do things like change an existing shortcut key to your preferred custom key combination, assign a key to a shortcut, or remap a key to some other key on your keyboard. Do note, however, that some of the keys on your keyboard are reserved for specific functions only, and therefore, you can’t remap them.

To give you an idea of a Keyboard Manager use case, consider a scenario where you have a broken key on your keyboard. In this scenario, you can simply remap this broken key to some other key on your keyboard and input the character from the broken key using the newly-assigned key.

8. PowerToys Awake

PowerToys Awake

IMAGE: Microsoft Docs

PowerToys Awake is a Windows utility that helps keep your computer awake without requiring you to tweak power and sleep settings. It comes in handy when your system is running a time-consuming task, where you don’t want it to go to sleep to turn off its screen.

To use PowerToys Awake, simply toggle the Enable Awake button. Then, select a behavior for the utility between inactive, keep awake indefinitely, and keep awake temporarily, as per your requirements.

Keep in mind, however, that even when PowerToys Awake keeps the PC awake, it will turn the display off in its default state. So if you need to keep the screen on, enable the Keep screen on option.

9. Always on Top

PowerToys Always on Top

IMAGE: Microsoft Docs

Always on Top, as the name suggests, is a PowerToys utility that lets you pin windows to the top of all open windows on your computer. It works system-wide, and you can activate/deactivate it using a simple keyboard shortcut.

Simply enable the Always on Top utility in the Microsoft PowerToys app and press the Windows+Ctrl+T keyboard shortcut, while you’re on the app that you want to pin, to pin it to your desktop. To deactivate it, hit the same keyboard shortcut again.

Besides, like most other PowerToys utilities, Always on Top also offers you the ability to change a few settings. For instance, you can exclude apps from being pinned to the top, change the border thickness, and customize the activation shortcut, among other things.

10. File Explorer add-ons

File Explorer add-ons

IMAGE: Microsoft Docs

File Explorer add-ons utility leverages the Preview Pane feature in the Windows File Explorer to give you a quick preview of a file’s content. If you’ve used macOS, you’d be familiar with this feature.

Currently, File Explorer add-ons supports preview pane rendering for SVG icons, markdown files, and PDF files, and icon thumb preview for SVG icons and PDF files.

To use it, enable Preview Pane in PowerToys, and turn on all the toggles next to all the different file types and options. Next, open the Windows File Explorer, click on the View tab, and select Preview Pane.

Now, simply click on a file to preview it.

Streamline Your Workflow For Better Productivity

Microsoft PowerToys utilities are a great way to enhance the functionality of your system and perform operations more efficiently. If you’re someone who likes to automate operations on your computer to streamline your workflow—and always wanted to do something similar on Windows—then the PowerToys utilities we’ve mentioned above can help you achieve that to a great degree.

For instance, you can use utilities like PowerToys Run, FancyZones, and Always on Top to enhance the functionality of your system and get more out of it, whereas you can make use of Image Resizer, PowerRename, and Keyboard Manager to carry out operations more efficiently.

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