5 free Windows power user tools we can’t live without – PC World New Zealand


It’s been 21 years since my parents bought me the first computer
that was just mine, one I didn’t have to share with anyone. It was
an eMachines desktop with a Pentium 4, a whopping 64GB of memory,
and a 40GB hard drive. It ran Windows ME (Millenium Edition!) out
of the box. And from the moment I turned it on right up until now,
I’ve been searching for software tools to make my computer more
efficient and easier to use.

In two decades and change I’ve installed, tweaked, and
uninstalled far more small programs than I can remember, to solve
little annoyances or to smooth over the rough spots in the Windows
interface. Windows itself has gotten a lot better over the years,
and many of the little tools I loved have become redundant as those
features have been incorporated into the operating system in one
way or another. UltraMon is a great example: Microsoft copied
its multi-monitor taskbars for Windows 8.

But there are still a few programs I install on each and every
machine to make them better. Here are five power user tools that
are small, simple, and free (though most developers welcome
donations if you find their software invaluable). Better yet, all
of them work with both Windows 10 and Windows 11.

Here’s how to get Windows for cheap (or even for

SoundSwitch: Quickly switch sound devices with a keyboard

Windows still isn’t great at managing more than one sound
device. Even in Windows 11 it’s at least three clicks to switch
from, say, your laptop speakers to Bluetooth headphones, or vice
versa. This can get old quickly if you’re swapping between speakers
and headphones on a regular basis for video meetings.

Michael Crider/IDG

SoundSwitch from developer Antoine Aflalo fixes this.
Once installed the tiny program lives in your toolbar, waiting for
you to input a keyboard shortcut (I use Ctrl + Alt + ~). When you
do, it’ll switch between any number of sound devices, with no need
to dig into the clunky sound menu. SoundSwitch also supports a
separate list of recording devices with their own hotkey, and it’s
being constantly updated and improved.

SpaceSniffer: Track down the files clogging your drive

Managing your computer’s storage space is kind of an
all-or-nothing experience. Windows will tell you how much space is
left on your drive, and that’s it; it’s up to you to dive into a
million different directories and clear out the gunk when you’re
running low on space. SpaceSniffer (try not to giggle) from Uderzo Software
solves this by scanning an entire drive and presenting your files
and folders in a visual grid.

Michael Crider/IDG

With each directory taking up a proportional amount of space on
your screen, it’s easy to see where the huge programs and media
files are hiding. You can clear out unwanted folders (and even
drill down to individual files!) right in the program, and delete
them without ever needing to open a file browser. It’s a fantastic
way to clean up drive space quickly.

Move the Recycling Bin off your desktop

How often do you actually use your Recycling Bin? If you’re
anything like me, it’s perhaps once a month, during a busy time. So
why does this thing which usually takes care of itself need a
dedicated spot on your desktop? If you’d like to clear it off,
check out MiniBin from e-sushi.

Michael Crider/IDG

This tiny tool replicates your Recycle Bin as a taskbar icon in
the notification area. The icon shows you roughly how full it is,
and you can right-click to open the Recycling Bin or empty it. With
MiniBin installed, you can clear off the Recycle Bin icon for a nice,
clean desktop.

SharpKeys: Reprogram any

If you have a full-sized keyboard, odds are there are at least
one or two keys that you don’t ever use. When’s the last time you
had to hunt for the Scroll Lock key? If you’d rather bind these to
something more useful, like media controls, SharpKeys from RandyRants is your solution.

Michael Crider/IDG

SharpKeys actually modifies files in the Windows Registry to
permanently reassign keys. So unlike, say, a programming tool for a
specific Razer keyboard, this software will work on a laptop and
with any third-party keyboards you plug in. Just save your settings
and reboot, and you’re good to go. I use it to disable Caps Lock
(which I never use) and change Page Up, Page Down, and Home buttons
to Volume Up/Down and Mute, respectively.

PowerToys FancyZone: Roll your own snap window layouts

Windows 10 introduced some powerful window management tools, and
Windows 11 expands on them. But if you’re looking for more
customized options — like setting up a quick window zone that’s
exactly the width of two Tweetdeck columns — you’ll need something
powerful, like UltraMon.

Michael Crider/IDG

But wait! If you don’t need the truckload of features in
UltraMon, there’s an official add-on from Microsoft that can do it
for free. The latest incarnation of PowerToys includes a tool called FancyZones,
among many others. It lets you create custom window layouts for
quickly organizing programs across your monitor. And it works great
for multi-monitor setups, too.

Source: https://www.pcworld.co.nz/article/692772/5-free-windows-power-user-tools-we-can-t-live-without/

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