Scott Hanselman

Five Absolutely Essential Utilities that make Windows better

November 18, '11 Comments [68] Posted in Tools
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Yes, I know I'm late in updating my Tools List. I know. Maybe this weekend.

Let me tell you about five tools that are so useful, so compelling and so "should have been built into Windows" that I now think of them as part of Windows. They are that useful to me. They make Windows better. They improve my workflow and then fade into the background. They are so stable and integrated that they have melted away and now feel as if they are part of Windows itself.

Bins by 1UP Industries

Bins was actually written by the same author as Fences, below, so you know it's awesome.

Animation of Windows 7 Taskbar icons jumping into a bin

It's actually ridiculously awesome. For example, I've got four browsers pinned to my Windows 7 Taskbar, which is kind of silly. Now, with bins, I can make a, *ahem*, "bin" and put four browser shortcuts in the space of just one regular icon. Then I make can choose a default program for the bin when I just click, or hover to get my others. All this functionality for $4.99, and he takes PayPal. Sold. Bins almost makes Windows 7 feel like Windows 7.1.

Fences by Stardock

I mentioned Fences here almost two years ago to the day and it's been running happily on all my Windows PCs ever since. I realize that some folks like a clean desktop but if you'd like to get those pixels working for you then I think you gotta put some icons on your desk. When they get out of hand, put a fence around them.

One of the best parts about Fences is that it's pretty smart about changing resolutions. Some people don't like a lot of icons because they fear the inevitable "give a presentation, change resolutions and lose all my icon positions" day. With Fences, this is not a problem. All your icons stay in their little boxes. They'll even rearrange magically if you change icon sizes.

Fences of icons resizing

Fences is truly a fantastic application and one that should be built in. The author of Fences and Bin is a programming god amongst men and I salute you, sir. The next taco is on me.

Window Pad by Lexikos in AutoHotkey

Here's a great graphic from Jim Priest's review of Window Pad that says what it does more clearly than I could. It's a multi-monitor aware window-moving tool. You use the Window Key along with the Number Pad to move windows around. Rather than spending time moving your windows with a mouse, you use the positions of the numbers on the number pad to move them.

It's Aero Snap taken to the next level. Rather than just left and right, there's nine positions per monitor that your windows can go, but because the positions correspond to the number pad you already know there's virtually no learning curve. WindowPad is brilliant and deserves to be in your Startup Folder.

How Window Pad works by Jim Priest

UltraMon Multi-Monitor Taskbar by Realtime Soft

I've used UltraMon as my Windows multi-monitor taskbar utility FOREVER. I purchased it in 2002 (that's a decade, kids) and it's been rock solid ever since.

There are a few other multi-monitor task bar utilities with Aero Peek and some other functions, but UltraMon is fast fast fast and I never think about it. It's never let me down for ten years.

Some real contenders are DisplayFusion from Binary Fortress and Actual Multiple Monitors. They are both actively developed and have more features and polish than UltraMon. I continue to use UltraMon because it's rock solid.

If you're serious about multiple monitors give them both a week of your time and pick one. You won't regret it.

DeskSpace by Otaku Software

I blogged about DeskSpace almost four years ago. I revisited it recently and it's not only in active development but it's gorgeous. Sure, there are other free Virtual Desktop managers out there but I challenge you to find one this polished, this gorgeous and this cleanly baked into Windows itself. It tends to use a bit of memory, but I'm willing to take the hit for the experience. DeskSpace is a beautiful, wonderfully functional piece of software and a fun and productive way to add multiple desktops to Windows.

P.S. One thing, Fences and virtual desktop systems don't always work well together so I keep the same desktop icons on each virtual desktop and change only the wallpaper. The Windows you choose to keep on different desktops stay there.

Amazing 3D Virtual Desktop Manager called DeskSpace

These five utilities should be built into Windows. But even though they aren't, they feel baked in and that's what really counts. Thanks you all, for making my daily Windows experience even better.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Friday, November 18, 2011 6:57:20 AM UTC
Hello Scott!

When I was trying out DeskSpace I found a major problem that when I switched the desktop on my main-screen, the desktop on my secondary screen changed too.

I use the secondary screen for "static content" so it was messing with that.

Do you know if it's possible to "look" the secondary monitor, to not be affected by DeskSpace?
Friday, November 18, 2011 7:01:52 AM UTC
WinSplit Revolution is to Window Pad, as Window Pad is to Aero Snap... just sayin'.
Friday, November 18, 2011 7:09:37 AM UTC
"Fences - when you want to go back to Windows 3.x and progman.exe"
Friday, November 18, 2011 7:58:51 AM UTC
Cool, I use Fences and "Desktops" http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/cc817881 tool which is 4 desktops at a time, That manages my system very well. I ll give your tools a try on a testing machine.
Friday, November 18, 2011 7:59:29 AM UTC
If the measure of a utility's success is how much it makes you hate using a computer without it, then StrokeIt is the all-time champion. OS-wide mouse gestures activated by right-click and hold. It's amazing how fast you get used to being able to back/forward/maximize/minimize/close-tab/close-window with just a little twitch.

The default gesture set is dated and poorly chosen, imo, but you can configure the meaning of each gesture per application. It is the greatest thing.
Matt
Friday, November 18, 2011 8:00:21 AM UTC
Click here to go to download DESKTOPS tool ah! html allowed, sorry for last comment.
Friday, November 18, 2011 8:06:29 AM UTC
I'd definitely add ClipX to that. It keeps a history of your clipboard.
Friday, November 18, 2011 8:17:01 AM UTC
I second Winsplit Revolution, I've been using it for years now. Haven't tried Window Pad. Winsplit has graphical configuration and some other nice features, worth a look.

Also, if you're on XP, Taskbar Shuffle is a must.
Friday, November 18, 2011 9:42:22 AM UTC
Still Multiple desktop is a kind of dream in Windows. Why Microsoft is giving piece of shit always? Explorer 'was' an excellent interface not anymore. It's not updating according to the trends. And finally got easily bored with Windows 8 Metro in desktop. not worth considering upgrade. I'd appreciate if Microsoft can give the improved process model for Windows 7 as a service pack or something.
Friday, November 18, 2011 9:59:17 AM UTC
I would add Everything to this list. Great little portable search engine. I don't need full text indexing and Everything just indexes file names quietly in the background with no performance hit and when I need to find something it's a snap.
Friday, November 18, 2011 10:01:23 AM UTC
WinRoll is another long time favourite. It lets you roll windows up into their title bars, push them up and down the Z-stack, keep them on top and a few other tricks.
Friday, November 18, 2011 10:01:26 AM UTC
Nice list, I love when you blog about stuff like this.
Oh and I believe "Mouse without Borders" deserves a honorable mention. I hope they'll integrate it into Windows 8 or something, such an incredible tool.
Friday, November 18, 2011 10:54:09 AM UTC
Thanks for these utilities Scott!
I've been using Fences for a long time, the other utilities seem cool too!

I got ask you, doesn't your laptop get slow for loading these things at startup?I assume you got more stuff on your startup folder besides these utils :)
Friday, November 18, 2011 11:04:17 AM UTC
Wow! Nice Utils. Thanks for sharing.
Friday, November 18, 2011 11:31:07 AM UTC
It may seem silly, but I continue to use Launchy instead of the launcher built into the start menu. I've found that Launchy shows results instantly, there is noticeable delay whenever I use the start menu. We programmers like our stuff instant, yes? =]

And +1 winsplit revolution =D
Friday, November 18, 2011 11:32:59 AM UTC
The one absolutely must have tool for me is Ditto. I can't write even a "Hello World" without a clipboard manager.
Obi
Friday, November 18, 2011 11:50:40 AM UTC
I cannot live without input director anymore.
Totally addicted. Totally recommended, above all else. N monitors, set up some macros too, many cool functions... The KVM switch is nowmuseum material.
NNM
Friday, November 18, 2011 12:53:50 PM UTC
I was a long time user of Ultramon but now use Actual Window Manager. It has lots of customization and things I don't use. It also allows a Windows 7 taskbar on every monitor. I love it.
Friday, November 18, 2011 12:55:15 PM UTC
I cannot live without QTTabBar that brings tabbing to Windows Explorer.
Friday, November 18, 2011 12:56:26 PM UTC
Does anyone know of an utility that can show the number assigned to each taskbar icon? It would be really great since I use Win+Number quite a lot now, but having to stop and actually count to find the key for a programs kind of defeats the point of it.
Friday, November 18, 2011 1:35:29 PM UTC
FYI - WindowsPad is built on top of AutoHotkey another utility I would recommend checking out. Very powerful and a huge time saver.
Friday, November 18, 2011 1:41:42 PM UTC
My choice for "software that feels like a part of windows" is RocketDock. So convenient and so simple to use.
Tracy Dryden
Friday, November 18, 2011 2:46:14 PM UTC
Hi! I use DeskSpace by Otaku Software and is absolutely amazing. Other four are usefull as well. Thanks
Friday, November 18, 2011 3:17:41 PM UTC
I just purchased and installed Bins and WOW!!, that is an app I wish I had a long time ago. Thanks Scott!!
Friday, November 18, 2011 3:20:22 PM UTC
+1 for Ditto
Friday, November 18, 2011 3:24:23 PM UTC
I see the 4 monitors in the demo, do you buy a single card for 4 monitors or 2 dual head cards?
wil4pres
Friday, November 18, 2011 3:55:00 PM UTC
Why none of these should be in Windows and Scott is Doing it Wrong (TM)

Bins: Launch by pressing [Win] and then typing a little bit of the app name. Or with [Win]+number. Why aren't you using the keyboard? Your geek badge must be returned within one week.

Fences: Turn off the desktop. Use Favorites in Explorer to get to locations. Or, you know, a directory structure and perhaps some shortcuts. Showing Explorer takes as much time as showing the desktop.

Window Pad: Already exists. [Win] + cursor keys.

Ultramon: I tried taskbars on different monitors. It was fine if you didn't split the tasks by monitors. In fact, it was just as fine as having one taskbar, except it took up more space. Just use one. Always throwing your mouse cursor the same way is good. Put it on the left edge.

Deskspace: I notice the maximum window count per-desktop on that little demo is two. On one of the desktops So basically you have [Alt]+tab. Or [Win]+tab. Or clicking on an app on the taskbar.

Friday, November 18, 2011 3:58:00 PM UTC
I've tried Fences and all I see is that let me put my desktop icons in boxes. I don't see the appeal, what am I missing that makes this revolutionary?
Friday, November 18, 2011 4:23:26 PM UTC
@Jesper Liljegren: Yes, it's possible to turn off DeskSpace on your second monitor. I'd be happy to take you through the process, so if you'd like to know more then please drop me a line.
Friday, November 18, 2011 4:25:46 PM UTC
@Jesper Liljegren: Whoops, hit Send a little too soon. For my comment to actually make sense I should mention that I'm the developer of DeskSpace :)
Friday, November 18, 2011 4:28:15 PM UTC
@thatblairguy.blogspot.com It is useful for those who like their icons grouped. For instance, I might have a working fence, a socal fence, a todo fence, etc.
Friday, November 18, 2011 5:23:04 PM UTC
@Rik Hemsley
>Window Pad: Already exists. [Win] + cursor keys.

Not nearly as powerful, fails totally on vertical screens since you can only do side to side and top and bottom.
Friday, November 18, 2011 6:51:32 PM UTC
Rik - Feeling trollish? ;) Seriously, though, here's my thoughts on your issues with these tools:

Bins: I do use Win+Number all the time, in fact. What's nice about Bins is that it makes 4 icons take up less horizontal space. It's compatible with Win+# and gives me more space. They aren't mutually exclusive.

Fences: I like to keep the things I'm currently working on on my desktop. As such, I like to organize them in project fences. If the desktop is clear, for me, it's an "out of site, out of mind" issue. When I'm done with projects I move them off the desk. Much like a real desk, I use the top of the desk for current work and the file cabinet for things I file away. And yes, Win+E and Win+D are about the same amount of time.

Window Pad: Already exists? Not really. Win+Left and Win+Right for Snap, sure, but Up and Down don't do vertical half-snaps. Also, Window Pad lets me snap to 1/4 screen as well, so there's NINE locations I can snap to, rather than just the left or right.

Ultramon: I have four monitors and the all have things running on them. When I have one giant taskbar on my 30" main monitor I spend too much time trying to figure out which monitor has which task. I prefer mulitple taskbars because each taskbar is a filtered view of tasks for that monitor. Use what works for you.

Deskspace: I paid for Deskspace so I can have as many as I like, not limited by any demo so I'm not sure what you mean by this comment.
Friday, November 18, 2011 7:18:58 PM UTC
Just gave Deskspace a go on my new Thinkpad W520 - loved it, but it had a enough graphics-related issues to make me feel it still has a bit of a ways to go yet. Will definitely keep an eye on it, though. Would also like to be able to 'pin' an app so it appeared in all desktops or to pin it to a subset of desktops.
Friday, November 18, 2011 7:37:56 PM UTC
I really dig the Bins piece. Thanks, Scott.
Friday, November 18, 2011 9:39:42 PM UTC
Tools List!
Friday, November 18, 2011 10:48:45 PM UTC
In reply to Scott,

I hope you weren't too offended by the cheekily trollish earlier reply. You may keep your geek badge ;)

Bins: Yes I did almost jump for joy when I saw Bins because for some reason the Win7 panel doesn't do small icons properly, so in a way it would be good... but then I thought I'm bound to miss them with the mouse and it'll be harder to see status, so perhaps best to stick to the strategy of using large icons and trying to keep the number down to something reasonable to avoid the dreaded paging.

Fences: Okay you're allowed to use the desktop. Just as long as I'm allowed to turn everything off on it.

Window Pad: Yes it would be good to have more control.

Ultramon: Conceded. I used to have four monitors and it was a nightmare working out which taskbar icon belonged to which window. I used Ultramon in the end, too.

Deskspace: I was pointing out that you seem to be using window per desktop (in general - and then alt-tab would work just as well), but that might just be for demo purposes in the animation.

In the end, I think most 'power users' as they used to be called (probably identifiable by having more than one monitor these days) really want something like one of the more powerful window managers that X11 enjoys. Probably something with tiling and scripting capability - in some esoteric language.

I miss twm and I'm not scared to admit it.
Saturday, November 19, 2011 1:43:26 AM UTC
Rik, all in good fun.

Deskspace - It was just an animation I made. I didn't want to give away prebuilds of stuff accidentally. I could have used a more typical example.

LOL @ "The Dreaded Paging"
Saturday, November 19, 2011 4:24:26 AM UTC
@J Healy: Would you be willing to help me sort out the graphics issues you're seeing in return for a free copy of DeskSpace?
Saturday, November 19, 2011 5:03:26 AM UTC
James, sure, be happy too as I otherwise loved the concept and execution. Having project / activity based desktops would make my life much easier.
Saturday, November 19, 2011 6:30:23 AM UTC
I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying this post and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.
Saturday, November 19, 2011 11:24:08 AM UTC
If you only use bins for your browser, you might want to consider Browser Chooser. However, even with this I have a slightly convoluted way of dealing with browsers in the task bar. Firstly, I have an IE9 pinned site for Trello, then I have my preferred browser Firefox, then Browser Chooser, with Firefox, IE9 and XP Mode applications of the previous 3 versions of IE (doing a lot corporate intranet apps, so stuck with the need to be compatible with dead versions of browsers). Browser Chooser also acts as my default browser, so that when a colleagues IMs me a link I can choose the browser. Unfortunately it's not quite right yet, as I can't work out how to pass links to the XP Mode browsers. Anyone got ideas on that last point?
Saturday, November 19, 2011 6:46:42 PM UTC
Scott, I don't see how Bins actually makes any reasonable use of Win+Number

If I load up one Bin with 4 browser icons and hit Win+Number, it just launches the original app for that item. Additionally, Win+Shift+Number no longer works. So, I just bought this thing and it's not useful to me :(

I'm also not expecting it to be fixed anytime soon, since there are 7-month-old messages on their site about this problem and it still hasn't been changed.

So.. keyboard jockeys - don't buy Bins!
Saturday, November 19, 2011 10:37:52 PM UTC
Scott,
First, cheers for these, as an avid fences user, as well as a few other Stardock products over the years, I cannot agree more with the niceness of having a clean but easily accessed desktop icon group, I'm going to give Bins a go now!

Second, DeskSpace seems like just the virtual desktop software I have been looking for but wondered if anyone else has been able to maintain their multiple monitor wallpapers via Ultramon? Since Ultramon does such a nice job keeping them separate does DeskSpace need to mess around with it at all or is there a setting I'm missing?

Again, deepest thanks for helping us clean up the miaisma we all seem to be working through!

Jon
Sunday, November 20, 2011 1:01:25 AM UTC
Dual Monitor Taskbar is a fairly good free opensource secondary taskbar.

http://sourceforge.net/projects/dualmonitortb/
Betty
Sunday, November 20, 2011 1:38:33 AM UTC
I can't live without PureText... It lets me paste text without format. I use it all the time...
www.stevemiller.net/puretext/
jonx
Sunday, November 20, 2011 1:57:46 AM UTC
I hate fences, and I love bins.
gs
Sunday, November 20, 2011 3:04:04 AM UTC
Jon: DeskSpace has specific support for Ultramon (and DisplayFusion), so it should work just fine with Ultramon wallpapers (including having different Ultramon wallpapers on each desktop). Would you like to help me solve the problem you're experiencing in return for a free DeskSpace license?
Sunday, November 20, 2011 10:38:19 AM UTC
@James, I would be happy to help! Let's get things sorted first then worry about rewards! ;-)
Jon
Sunday, November 20, 2011 10:42:56 AM UTC
@Tom. Indeed it was much earlier this year when I'd marked the keyboard shortcut feature as under-review. Good news is, this feature is actually implemented and ready to go :) It's part of the list of other features I'm working to get in for an upcoming major update. I've gone and updated the post; didn't do it already as I didn't want to tease :)

Anyhow this particular feature enables not just WinKey+# (with keyboard navigation within the Bin thereafter), but also WinKey+#+# chords for instant/direct access to apps within Bins. As noted in my email though, Shift+WinKey+# should be unaffected even in the current public release, so we'll want to look into that.

Cheers,
Sunday, November 20, 2011 10:57:31 AM UTC
p.s., Scott sorry for setting you up for that one, your copy of Bins is a special pre-release! So right, relatively soon Bins *will* be compatible with WinKey+# as noted above :) Will see if I can get this copy out to those requesting on the message boards sooner rather than later.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011 6:44:02 PM UTC
Fences: In addition to above mentioned usefulness of Fences, it has another feature I find very practical and use quite often.

I tend to have lots of icons, grouped into lots of fences, all related to the various projects I am currently working on. I do presentations and demos quite often, and I don't want the viewers to see everything that's on my desktop. By just double-clicking the desktop area, it hides all fences and loose icons, showing only the fences I want them to see.

It's brilliant, and very easy, kind of like swiping dust under the carpet while cleaning: It's still there - you just don't see it. :)
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 12:40:47 AM UTC
After switching between two computers for years with a KVM, or more recently with two keyboards and mice layered on stands in front of me, I have just discovered Input Director, a software kvm which makes the second, or third or more computer just another extension of the existing setup.

You effectively assign a screen edge which movement of the mouse across it will then make the keyboard and mouse active on the next computer.

This does mean you need a screen for each computer, but then I gave up on screen sharing ages ago as I couldn't see what was happening on the other computer. It is really handy for having a laptop and a desktop.

Only thing is not getting confused and trying to move applications across to the other computer.
Bob Jones
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 9:41:26 AM UTC
24.95$ for the deskspace application! Ridiculously price for flipping the workspace. To put it in perspective => It's about 12% of the retail price of windows 7, with the additional functionality of 0.00001%
Thursday, November 24, 2011 4:37:31 AM UTC
jarlef: Or it's 7c/day if you use it every day for a year, around the price of a 3D movie ticket in Australia (yes, seriously, they're *that* expensive), the cost of 6 Big Macs in the US, or about 10 minutes of salary for the average full-time employee in Norway :)

Seriously though, pricing software is hard. If an app is useful to someone, then it might be worth a lot more than the sticker price. On the other hand, if a user can't see how they would derive value from an app, then they're going to think it's worth a lot less than it's being sold for. In this case, it's a failure on my part to communicate how DeskSpace could be of value to you.

Just out of interest, how much would you pay for DeskSpace? If don't think it's worth anything, then what features could I add to make it more valuable to you?
Thursday, November 24, 2011 8:37:42 AM UTC
James Stewart:
It looks like a good piece of software, no doubt about that.

However, I'm a developer and i have multiple screens at my workplace, so i don't see the need to flip my desktop there since i have a nice workspace to work on. I would rater use this on my laptop at home for personal use. I think the Bins application is reasonably price with 4.99 and I wouldn't pay over 10$ for this application. This is just my opinion though :-)
Friday, November 25, 2011 2:10:08 PM UTC
I use RAINMETER for clock and other stats on my laptop. I belive Deskspace could be the right thing for me. I am only concerned on how RAINMETER will deal with it.

Has anyone tried this combination before?
Sunday, November 27, 2011 10:16:01 AM UTC
jjaavv.myopenid.com: Rainmeter should work with DeskSpace without any problems.
Monday, November 28, 2011 9:25:08 AM UTC
@James Stewart: DeskSpace often hangs after switching desktops on my ThinkPad W510. Have to kill the process. Otherwise I love it!
Tuesday, November 29, 2011 9:26:12 AM UTC


What tool did you used on screen capture to GIF?
Tuesday, November 29, 2011 7:21:59 PM UTC
+1 for PureText. I use it so much in my daily life I find myself tapping [Win] + V on other users' computers when helping out someone.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011 4:07:02 AM UTC
David A. Sjøen: Would you like to help me fix the problem in return for a free license? If you're interested, shoot me an email at support@otakusoftware.com :)
Thursday, December 01, 2011 3:50:25 AM UTC
Thanks Scott. I found fences very useful, it cleaned up my messy desktop :)
Thursday, December 01, 2011 3:36:08 PM UTC
If you like WindowPad, please check out my similar solution Deft.

It is also an AutoHotKey implementation of a window mover, but uses the regular arrow keys instead of the number pad. Then, to get windows to a "7" position from WindowPad, you would press Win+Left+Up. It provides just as many window positions but is closer to how windows does it and doesn't force you to move your hand as far.

Kind of hard to explain, but if you like WindowPad, give it a try. Let me know what you think.
Thursday, December 01, 2011 10:52:16 PM UTC
Nice post Scott! I'll definitely try out a few of these - WindowPad sounds good and I might revisit Bins (had it installed before it became a paid product).

Thought i'd add a few more programs I can't live without -

Synergy (http://synergy-foss.org/) - invaluable tool when using multiple laptops/desktops at the same time. I've tried Mouse without Borders which was mentioned above but it just isn't as good.

Rocketdock - Old and hasn't been update in ages but looks great and simple to use.

Windroplr - Great for quickly sharing a file - just drag and drop onto the icon, get the link and send to a friend.

Cheers

Alex
Wednesday, June 20, 2012 11:38:06 PM UTC
Launchy is about the only utility I find it really hard to live without on any PC.

For multi-desktops, I use WindowsPager, which has been very solid.

And for multi-monitor wallpaper settings (these things are important!) I use DisplayFusion
Thursday, June 21, 2012 11:35:52 AM UTC
I use a utility called Launchy and is really cool, it allows you to get do common everyday tasks within a few key taps.. like firing up your favourite websites, or explorer folders. For example if I want to search Google It press alt-space followed by 'goo' (which identifies the action) followed by the query, without having to touch my mouse.

Very Useful!!
Monday, December 10, 2012 2:56:35 PM UTC
Don't forget Greenshot, the new, open-source screenshot tool!

http://getgreenshot.org
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.