Scott Hanselman

Herding Cats: Organize your Desktop Icons with Stardock Fences for Windows

November 08, 2009 Comment on this post [40] Posted in Reviews | Tools | Win7
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screenshot There are few issues that divide computer people like that thousand-year-old question: How many icons should you have on your desktop? Some folks say, "Load 'em up! Make those pixels work for you." Others say, "I like a fresh bowl desktop with no icons." Some folks find a spot in between with just My Computer and the Recycle Bin.

For me, the desktop is my work space. It's where I live and breathe and it's in front of my face all the time. I want as much information on there as possible. If I wanted a picture of the beach, I'd live at the beach and look up from my keyboard.

I'm thrilled with Windows 7. Frankly, I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all the free time that I'm saving not dicking around with my computer trying to get it to work. Many of the tools I've espoused over the years simply aren't needed in Windows 7 as they were filling gaps that are no longer there.

That said, Fences from Stardock is one of those apps that extends Windows in such a comfortable and natural way, it should be built in. What's wonderful about Fences is that it is so subtle but so powerful that it truly becomes part of Explorer and feels like it's always there. It's not like to many loud or garish utilities that take over some aspect of Windows and feel the need to announce their presence with bright colors obnoxious splashscreens.

image Kudos, truly, to Stardock for showing not only a sense of restraint but also for embracing what I think of as the "new Windows aesthetic." Years of ridiculous toolbars, poor icon design, the Crayola-color themes of Windows XP and general gaudiness has watered down Windows and made it almost impossible to consider it an "visually attractive" OS. I think it's great that Windows 7 has a definable style that developers are embracing. I'm thrilled each time I download and play with some throwaway little utility but the developer has taken the time to integrate a Windows 7 feature like JumpLists, Taskbar Progress or even just taken the time to create a decent high-res icon. This is definitely a cue we can take from the Apple folks.

Fences Augments Windows Explorer

Back to Fences. It allows you to create just that - little "Fences" around icons on your desktop. The Fences can be any color and can have labels or not, or just show labels on mouseover.

To create a Fence you just right-drag a rectangle and click "create new fence here." Alternatively you can select from a series of presets to jump start your organization. You can also take snapshots when you get things just so. I do this for presentations because switching from 1920x1200 to 1024x768 tends to wreak havoc on icons and fences. Snapshots put things back they way they were.

Once you drag an icon into a fence, it auto-arranges with a satisfying animation as all the icons rearrange themselves to make room for the new addition.Another great subtle feature is if you double-click on the desktop it'll hide your icons. This is not only great for presentations where you might not want to let the eating public see the chaos in the kitchen, but it's also a nice compromise for those of you who want a clean desktop, but can also appreciate a a few icons here and there. You can even exclude specific icons (like perhaps My Computer) from quick-hide.

One obscure bug that I hope the Fences guys and gals fix is that there are some applications that take a regular folder, like Live Mesh for example, and "augment" it to make it more than a regular folder. They might change the icons or plug in a sidebar window. For whatever reason, Fences can't see those Folders while they are different. For now, the workaround is to exit Mesh, move the folder into the Fence, then turn Mesh on. Truly a minor irritant and best, but still it'd be nice to see it fixed.

Regardless, I whole-heartedly recommend Fences and encourage you to go download it NOW and try it out. Note that when you install it, you should pay attention to what it installs, as it also added an "auto-updater" for Stardock products that you may want to remove afterwards if those kinds of extra-applets bother you.


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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November 08, 2009 18:20
i have a new favorite tool, thanks for the link.

November 08, 2009 19:18

Hi Scott,

I think for your type of work, RecentX can be very useful.

November 08, 2009 19:56
Hi Scott,

Very cool. Thanks for the tip. BTW, very handsome son.

November 08, 2009 22:04
In the first image of your desktop, where did you get the bing search box?
November 08, 2009 22:35
I've used Fences for a while and like it. The one thing that would make it even cooler is if there were different icon views like Explorer's list, detail, and thumbnail.

Beware the "Community Preview" free version. It expires after a month and requires a reinstall.
November 08, 2009 22:57
I discovered Fences a few months ago and love it. It's been the saviour of my Desktop. I'm still wondering why a product like this wasn't developed years ago...
November 09, 2009 1:35
Hi Scott - great tip, love it.

November 09, 2009 3:00
"Free for personal use"--that's my kind of add-on. Downloading now...

Thanks for the tip.
November 09, 2009 3:28
I used to use a few UI extension tools when I was on XP like program launchers, but these are unnecessary in 7. This is the first useful extension for it I have seen. I can see already I will be using this a lot and putting a lot more icons on the desktop than I used to.

I can see room for improvement, I would like to see the fences have the ability to snap to the size required to store the icons without scroll bars also the same top and bottom of screen snapping as windows 7 has anyway would be good.
November 09, 2009 3:39
I have just seen there is a fences pro coming out soon (Paid for version). Can't find a full feature list but it says icons can be sorted into fences automatically by file type, or all new icons added to a particular fence. Icons can be sorted within fences as well.
November 09, 2009 9:02
I am sure Scott has mentioned this before, but 7Stacks is also a worthwhile add-in to Win7 desktop.
November 09, 2009 11:54
Windows 3.1 Program Manager comes back :)
November 09, 2009 19:10
This seems pretty neat, but what are some of the things that you use Fences for?
November 09, 2009 19:11
Too bad you can't hide the content of the Fences and leave only the Title bars... but then again it would pretty much be folders with shortcuts at that point :)
November 09, 2009 19:49
If you like this, you should check out ObjectDock. I don't really use the Mac-esque bottom dock bar, but they have a dock type called a Drawer that allows you to create tabbed set of icons that pull down (or up, or sideways) from the edge of your screen. So I keep all of my desktop icons in those shelves leaving my desktop clean to admire that wonderful new Windows 7 wallpapers.
November 10, 2009 1:20
The Bing gadget is available here:
November 10, 2009 1:36
I've just installed it and had a digital orgasm.
November 10, 2009 2:32
Oh cool, this is a feature I've really been missing from KDE 4. Good to see someone implement it in Windows :D
November 10, 2009 3:01
I love it! Thanks Scott!
November 10, 2009 6:16
Excellent!!! you rock ,.... and now my desktop rocks too.
November 10, 2009 7:03
I've been playing with Fences all day. Awesome. I just wish it would hide/show Windows 7 Gadgets along with the icons.

Great find Scott - thanks for sharing!
November 10, 2009 7:24
Cool tool, but I personally can't stand anything on my desktop at all. Nothing on it, at all.
November 10, 2009 9:54
Scott - Fences is a great app, no doubt about it. For those not-so-tech-savvy of your readers here is a write up that explain Fences a bit more detail.
November 10, 2009 22:26
Great app, thanks for sharing. Not too useful on my home machine because I usually only have five or six icons on my desktop. I could certainly use it on my work machine, but it runs Windows XP ='(
November 10, 2009 23:19
Update: Fences definitely works on Windows XP. You've redeemed my work machine's desktop, Scott. Many thanks.
November 11, 2009 14:03
November 11, 2009 19:40
Very exciting all you write about Windows 7. But at my company we are stil running Windows XP SP3... Only to upgrade from SP2 was already a big fuss...
November 22, 2009 4:36
Hi Scott,

very nice article, while we're on the topic of Stardock software I always found Windowblinds one of those indispensable little helpers that made looking at the windows environment 11 hours a day a much less drab experience. With this you can, no matter what Windows version (as long as its true 32 bit or better), have all the eye candy or stylishness that you desire, something that, when confronted with the initial beauty of Luna one would have thought a logical consequence for Microsoft windows - in-built skinning!

I had asked myself for quite a while a after XP was released, why there were only 3 flavors of the XP skin, the blue we all know, the silver, like a fresh breath of air, and the rather depressing "Olive green". I always thought, if green why can it not be a nice happy highly hued one such as the "Luna Blue"? And obviously, if XP allows changing the color, then why can I not add my own?

Luckily after a short while (and probably inspired by the same thought) the Stardock ream came to the rescue and published a nice little "hacked" program that replaced one of the windows DLLs (which actually had been created by 3rd party team anyway) and voila, allowed the users to chose between wildly differing Operating System Skins, such as LInux or Apple style, without taking to much of a hit in performance, thanks to the already excellent display hardware support of Windows XP.

There is a free version out there, and if you have tried Fences I would strongly recommend trying WB as well, especially if (like me) you are still "stuck" in the world of XP SP3 - I am quite glad about Windows 7 as I get to skip the dreadful Vista. But if I chose, I can have the vista look any time of the day, thanks to Windowblinds.
November 28, 2009 21:41
Many people use many icons on their desktop. You said right , its their workplace and workspace. it wonderful post on the same.
December 10, 2009 22:07
I have been wondering when Gizmo would get around to 'Fences'. Installed and loved it but prefer Stardock Object Dock because it's a one click system where Fences is still a double click affair. Both are great but I do wish they made the icons in Fences one click. Seeing it in writing makes it sounds trivial but when you get used to single clicking on the desktop reverting to double click seems a step in the wrong direction. But it does give you an icon free desktop which I suppose is an advantage. And now I don't have to write asking why Fences hasn't been mentioned.
March 05, 2010 11:43
Really nice tool. For me I have a few icons, on the desktop so it sorts those but where it is strong is that it helps me split the sorted from unsorted. Often I am saving files from websites and emails to the desktop to check later and this shows me quickly what those are (since they are not in a fence).
April 01, 2010 0:11
Hmmm. Fences sounds a lot like the dock on Mac OSX. I use both Mac and PC, and LOVE the dock as compared to navigating through windows. Don't get me wrong I love windows too, but I think that I will love it more when the accessibility of my windows desktop is optimized. Cool product, I will try it out! :)
May 11, 2010 11:40

Very cool. Thanks you for the tip. BTW, very handsome son.
May 14, 2010 19:28
I really enjoyed while reading the post, If you will look my desktop, you will say "how do you find your stuff".
for me everything is desktop, I found it easy....!
May 14, 2010 19:32
I was reading your post. I was also put all my files on desktop, I saved all my documents on my desktop then my friend said, its effect on speed of computer, so I removed to different drive, is that correct.... Please suggest
May 20, 2010 19:42
Question - I just installed on my Vista Premium machine and configured. I can NOT get any labels to be visible.
Mouseover doesn't seem to work either. Any ideas why?

May 25, 2010 11:18
Your work is good.This blog is given informative information.Thank you for this useful information.I will share it with my friends.I have done bookmarked it.
July 02, 2010 0:41
Hey, I have to tell you this is an amazing blog, from the content to the quality is awesome! i will add it to my blogg and send some traffic your way, great job keep posting more.

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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.