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Microsoft PowerToys is a set of freeware system utilities for power users, developed by Microsoft for its flagship operating system, Windows. PowerToys do not undergo the same rigorous testing that the operating system components do and are published without technical support.
PowerToys for Windows 95 was the first version of Microsoft PowerToys and included 15 tools for power users. One of the best known ones is TweakUI, a system utility for tweaking the more obscure settings in Windows. In most cases, TweakUI exposes settings that are otherwise only accessible by directly modifying Windows Registry. Other tools include:
- CabView: To open cabinet files like ordinary folders
- CDAutoPlay - To make AutoPlay work on any non-audio CD
- Command Prompt Here - To start a command prompt from any folder in Windows Explorer by right-clicking (native in Windows Vista onwards)
- Contents Menu - To access folders and files from a context menu without having to open their folders
- Desktop Menu - To open items on the desktop from a menu on the Taskbar
- Explore From Here - To open Windows Explorer view from any folder such that that folder acts as the root level folder
- FindX - To add drag-and-drop capabilities to Find (now called Search) menu
- FlexiCD - To play an audio CD from the Taskbar.
- Quick Res - To quickly change the screen resolution
- Round Clock - An analog round clock without a square window
- Send To X - Shell extensions which add several commonly accessed locations such as clipboard, desktop, command-line or any folder to the Send To context menu in Explorer
- Shortcut Target Menu - To access the target file a shortcut is pointing to from the context menu or directly cut, copy, delete the target, create shortcut to the target or view its properties.
- Telephony Location Selector - For mobile computer users to change their dialing location from the Taskbar
- Xmouse 1.2 - To make the window focus follow the mouse without requiring to click the window to make it active
PowerToys for Windows 95 were developed by Windows Shell Development Team. Most of them work correctly on later versions of Windows up to Windows XP but do not work correctly on Windows Vista or later, because of extensive changes made to the shell or compatibility problems with User Account Control or 64-bit computing.
Windows 95 Kernel Toys
After the huge success of the Windows 95 PowerToys, Windows Kernel Development Team released another set of tools for power users called Windows 95 Kernel Toys. Six tools were included in this package, including:
- MS-DOS Mode Configuration Wizard Customization Tool - To configure Windows startup files without having to manually edit CONFIG.SYS or AUTOEXEC.BAT files
- Keyboard Remap - To reassign functions to keys on the keyboard
- Logo Key Control - To configure MS-DOS games so that Windows will ignore the Windows logo key while the game is running
- Conventional Memory Tracker - To unwrap the memory used by the "vmm32" program
- Windows Process Watcher (WinTop) - To watch how much of CPU resources are taken by individual programs
- Time Zone Editor - To create and edit time zone entries for the Date/Time Control Panel applet
PowerToys for Windows XP
PowerToys for Windows XP is the second version of the PowerToys set and is a major change from the Windows 95 version. The tools in this set were available as separate downloads rather than in a single package.
- Alt-Tab Replacement Task Switcher replaces the simpler Alt-Tab switcher with a more visual one which shows live window previews.
- CD Slide Show Generator generates a slideshow from photos burned to a CD.
- ClearType Tuner allows customizing ClearType settings to make it easier to read text on the screen.
- Color Control Panel Applet allows managing color profiles, changing color profile associations for devices, viewing detailed properties for color profiles (including a 3D rendering of the color space gamut).
- HTML Slide Show Wizard generates an HTML slideshow presentation.
- Image Resizer allows right-clicking on multiple image files inside Windows Explorer to batch resize them.
- Open Command Window Here allows starting a command prompt from any folder in Windows Explorer by right-clicking.
- Power Calculator is a more advanced graphical calculator application than the built-in Windows Calculator; it can evaluate more complex expressions, draw a Cartesian or polar graph of a function or convert units of measurements. Power Calculator can store and reuse pre-defined functions, of any arity. For example, a function can be set by
cube(x) = x * x * x, and later it can be used in an expression like
5 + cube(4). It does not evaluate every time an operator is entered. Rather, the entire expression must be entered for calculation. In the Numeric mode, it presents a visual keypad, in all other modes the expression has to be typed in. A scrolling text area maintains a history of all calculations. The advanced view allows declaring and graphing functions, along with a list of all the saved functions. A flyout window provides the option of choosing either a Cartesian co-ordinate system or polar co-ordinates. It can also save a list of variables for use in expression. Unit conversions of the following types are supported: length, mass, time, velocity, and temperature. PowerToy Calc has support for typing calculations using Reverse Polish Notation (RPN). It can calculate up to 500 precision levels beyond the decimal point and supports complex numbers.
- RAW Image Thumbnailer and Viewer provides thumbnails, previews, printing, and metadata display for RAW images from within Windows Explorer.
- SyncToy allows synchronizing files and folders.
- Taskbar Magnifier magnifies part of the screen from the taskbar.
- Tweak UI customizes Windows XP's user interface and advanced settings.
- Virtual Desktop Manager allows switching between four virtual desktops from the taskbar.
- Webcam Timershot takes pictures at specified time intervals from a webcam.
The following PowerToys for Windows XP are now retired:
- Background Switcher added a slideshow tab to Display properties and allows automatically changing the desktop wallpaper periodically. Although, Background Switcher is now retired, a replacement, known as Wallpaper Changer, is now available from Microsoft.
- Internet Explorer Find Bar added toolbar to Internet Explorer that allowed users to search for keywords in a web page. This feature is now natively supported by Internet Explorer 8.
- ISO Image Burner burned ISO images to an Optical disc recorder. This feature is now integrated into Windows 7. In addition, Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit includes two similar tools (CDBurn.exe and DVDBurn.exe). Although Microsoft has retired this Power Toy, it is now available as the unauthorized ISO Recorder Power Toy.
- Shell Audio Player was a Windows Media Player-based compact player which allows playing music from the taskbar.
- Super-Fast User Switcher allowed Fast User Switching or logging on to a different account using the Windows key+Q combination without requiring to switch to the logon screen.
- Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel could mount an ISO image as a virtual drive. It was designed for Windows XP, but it also worked with Windows Server 2003. It was a free alternative to software such as Alcohol 120%.
PowerToys for other Microsoft products
Microsoft has also released PowerToys for Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and Windows XP Media Center Edition. As part of the Windows Media Player Bonus Pack, another set of PowerToys for Windows Media Player was released. Finally, Microsoft has also released Windows Mobile PowerToys for Developers, Visual Studio and Microsoft Office OneNote.
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