The original Windows PowerToys are extra goodies that simply should have been part of Windows 95 at the beginning. The designers of the Windows 95 shell wrote them for their own use initially, and later were permitted to post them as free, unsupported add-ons (which work very well despite the official “unsupported” stance). For several years, I have thought of them simply as indispensable parts of a standard Windows install. Mostly, these original PowerToys work very well not only in Windows 95, but also in Windows 98, Windows Millennium Edition (ME), and Windows XP. This FAQ explains which ones do and do not work in each of these versions of Windows.
Microsoft has released an entirely new set of PowerToys custom created for Windows XP, including TweakUI 2.0 (which, in this FAQ, I’ll simply call “TweakUI XP”). This is the first new issue of a PowerToys set since Windows 95. With only a couple of exceptions, these tools do not at all duplicate the original Win95 PowerToys. This means that most of the original Win95 PowerToy set is also still very useful and desirable on Win XP in addition to the new XP PowerToys.
Here is the direct Microsoft link to the original PowerToys. (In the event they move it again, the best place to start looking is here.)
IMPORTANT NOTE: I recommend that you download and install a current version of the Windows PowerToys, rather than use a copy downloaded in the past. A few bugs have been resolved over the years. All remarks in this FAQ concerning safety and correct performance of these utilities presume the latest version. Especially, do not use the version of TweakUI that comes with the original PowerToys distribution — even on a Win95 computer. A much improved version is available here.
Links to Microsoft’s download site for the Windows XP PowerToys can be found on the “My Favorite Freeware” page here.
As with the Original Windows PowerToys, I recommend that you download and install a current version of the Windows XP PowerToys, rather than use a copy that you or someone else downloaded in the past. Already there have been several changes in the released tools, and it is likely there will be other revisions over time. Some of these could be bug fixes.
NOTE: New versions will not install, or will not install correctly, unless you completely uninstall the earlier version first. It is not necessary to uninstall previous versions of all prior PowerToys to install new ones — you just have to uninstall the currently installed version of the particular PowerToy you want to upgrade. Before uninstalling a current version, I recommend you read Some of the XP PowerToys are missing! below.
When you go to the download page, MS tells you in nice bold type:
THIS DOWNLOAD IS NOT INTENDED FOR USE ON PCS RUNNING MICROSOFT® WINDOWS® 98. Windows 98 already has many of the enhancements previously available for Windows 95 from this Web site. You should not download this component for use on a PC running Windows 98.
The truth, though, is that you can use most of them, and they work just fine in Windows 98, Windows ME, and Windows XP. You just have to know which ones.
Send to X, which adds to the “Send To” context menu options of Send To Any Folder, Send To Clipboard, and Send To Command Line, has caused some problems in Windows 98. Some people report that it interferes with Win98’s built-in Send to Desktop feature. This does not happen on every computer (it didn’t happen on mine), but does happen on some.
Win ME & XP NOTE: With only a single exception known to me, users have reported that this PowerToy installs and works just fine on Windows ME and XP, without needing the patch. To ward against even a slim chance of a problem, set a Restore Point right before installing “Send to X,” immediately test for problems, and do a System Restore if you want to back out of the install.
Cabfile Viewer is not needed for Win98 or later. In some cases, it actually has disabled Win98’s native ability to open cabinet files. Don’t install it except on Win95!
NOTE: If you do inadvertently “break” CAB file viewing by installing this, uninstall the Cabfile Viewer and, from a Run box or other command prompt, type: regsvr32 cabview
Shortcut Target Menu may be a problem if you use an early version of PowerToys. This one was originally broken, but the problem is fixed in later releases. (We call this the “Early TargetToy Bug.” This is why I recommend you download and install a current version of the PowerToys, rather than use a copy you downloaded in the past.) If an early version of Shortcut Target Menu is installed on an upgrade to any post-Win95 operating system, right-clicking on any shortcut will cause Windows to crash. A Registry patch to fix this problem (based on information from MS-MVP Alex Nichol) can be downloaded here.
TweakUI isn’t dangerous, except in the sense that it’s powerful. If you misuse it, you will get exactly what you have asked it to do.
Though TweakUI ver. 1.33 (created for Win9x) also works perfectly for me on Windows XP (except for two specific features), Windows XP has its own version of TweakUI that comes with the XP PowerToys (see above). In general, I recommend that you use TweakUI XP with Windows XP. (I have both versions installed on Win XP, and use TweakUI 1.33 for a couple of features that TweakUI XP doesn’t have; but, to do this hassle-free, you have to careful of the possible problems listed below.)
Problems of TweakUI 1.33 in Windows XP: (1) Do not use the “Log on automatically at startup” feature (on the Logon tab). This causes Win XP to freeze during startup, requiring a reinstallation to get past it. (2) Based on input from TweakUI’s creator, Raymond Chen, MS-MVP Alex Nichol additionally advises against using any of the features on TweakUI’s Desktop tab — the primary concern being item (1) below concerning changing the first item on the desktop. (3) In general, avoid the problems mentioned below that apply to other post-Win95 versions of Windows.
In TweakUI ver. 1.33, there are a few small, bothersome bugs in Windows versions later than Win95. The following list was compiled by numerous MS-MVPs and other participants in the Microsoft newsgroups supporting Windows ME. I’ve added notes in brackets. (None of these issues applies to TweakUI XP.)
The fix is a Registry hack. This lets you test whether you can use this PowerToy without problems. Just back up the Registry before installing it, knowing that you can restore the backed up Registry if something goes wrong.
The permanent fix, if problems develop, is a Registry patch that you can download and apply.
A partial list of the various Win95 PowerToys includes:
TweakUI (Tweak User Interface) - The most important and useful of them all. I strongly recommend that everyone download the latest version rather than use any of the earlier ones. (For Windows XP, use TweakUI XP instead.)
Cabfile Viewer - This is built into Win98, Win ME, and Win XP, with nothing required for install. Do not use the old Win95 CAB-file viewer in Win98/ME/XP — it is not needed and, in some cases, it has disabled Windows’ native ability to open CAB files.
X-Mouse - This is built into the current versions of TweakUI (including TweakUI XP) on the Mouse tab. These controls in TweakUI work perfectly for me on Windows 98, ME, and XP. You do not need to use the old X-Mouse PowerToy (xmouse.exe) on Win98/ME/XP. However, the Win95 version is apparently safe, at least in Win95/98, because MS says, right in TweakUI ver. 1.33, that if this setting item is not available, use the Win95 X-Mouse PowerToy. Since the Win95 version has more options and functionality, some people have chosen to use it in Win98, though others have found that it only works intermittently and, therefore, prefer the TweakUI implementation. (I have not tested the old X-Mouse PowerToy in Win XP, and therefore do not recommend it. Use the controls in TweakUI XP.)
QuickRes - Now built into Win98/ME, so there is no need to use the old stand-alone utility (quickres.exe). In Win98/ME, go to Desktop Properties | Settings | Advanced and check the box to have the icon appear in the task bar. Unfortunately, for Win XP the old QuickRes PowerToy doesn’t work, and there is no native function as in 98/ME. I recommend a third-party solution, such as QuickRes NT or 1st QuickRes Light. (See My Favorite Freeware for a brief discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each.)
Flexi CD - I have always found the Windows standard CD player to work really well and cannot tell that Flexi CD adds anything. But if you want it for some reason, flexicd.exe does still work fine on Win98 and later, as far as I can tell.
DeskMenu - Works fine in Win98/ME/XP, though some think it is unnecessary with other new built-in features which do different, but related, tasks. (The executable is deskmenu.exe.)
DOS Prompt Here - Works perfectly in Win98/ME, but fails in Win XP. (It doesn’t appear to cause any new problems per se; it just fails). This is one of the few places where the XP PowerToys set has a complete replacement, “Open Command Prompt Here” (see below), which you should use instead of its predecessor.
Also working perfectly well for me on Win98, ME, and XP, and with no problem reports I have seen: Round Clock (clock.exe); Explore From Here; Shortcut Target Menu (with the “Early TargetToy Bug” caveat mentioned above) and Fast Folder Contents.
Here follows a listing of each of the Windows XP PowerToys, with a few notes about usage. If you already have one version of one of these “toys” installed, it is necessary to uninstall it before installing a newer version. If you don’t uninstall it first, the new installation may appear to work, but actually will not install.
Before you uninstall all of your old ones: Some Windows XP PowerToys released in a previous version are no longer in the present version. You may want to read Some of the XP PowerToys are missing! below before proceeding.
One minor warning: Some users (only a few) have reported that installation and use of XP PowerToys causes desktop icons to revert to older (pre-XP) forms. When this occurs, the cause is corruption of certain Registry keys. A patch to repair this is available here.
TweakUI XP - Perhaps most exciting about this new version is that it no longer installs into the Control Panel. It’s a small (197 KB) stand-alone program (tweakui.exe) that requires no installation — just drop it where you want it on your hard drive. One powerful new feature is that it has a button to launch the Windows XP Group Policy Editor, which permits hundreds of individual settings to be changed. (Group Policy Editor is not included in Win XP Home Edition.)
NOTE: There is a newer version of TweakUI that requires Win XP Service Pack 1, and also works on Server 2003. Microsoft has withdrawn the link for the earlier one that works on Windows XP without SP1, but the file is still available for download if you know where to look. I give links to both versions here.
NOTE: Some people wish TweakUI XP were still in the Control Panel. MS-MVP Kelly Theriot has a registry patch to accomplish this. Always back up your Registry before patching it!
Open Command Prompt Here - In Windows 9x, you had a DOS prompt (based on COMMAND.COM); but in Windows XP, it’s a Command Prompt (based on CMD.EXE). The “DOS Prompt Here” PowerToy from the original Win95 set doesn’t work in Win XP, but this new “Open Command Prompt Here” works very well! Right-click on any folder in Windows Explorer, and select this option from the context menu — voila! you have a command prompt open in the selected folder.
Task Switcher (Alt+Tab Enhancement) - I like this one! After TweakUI, it is definitely my favorite of the new PowerToys. Task Switcher (taskswitch.exe) replaces the traditional Alt+Tab application-switching mechanism with a better user interface. What’s “better” about it? Primarily that it shows a large thumbnail of the application you are selecting, which makes it easier to get the right one. For example, if you have several browser windows open, as you hot-switch between them you get to see the page each is displaying, rather than simply choosing from a row of identical IE icons. Unlike earlier versions, the current one does set itself to run automatically at system startup. (You used to have to add your own shortcut to this PowerToy to your Startup folder.) TIP: Don’t forget that Shift+Alt+Tab shifts backwards through the list.
NOTE: Some users complain that this Task Switcher works much slower than the default Win XP task switching. There is also a very rare report that this PowerToy doesn’t work well with the Silver style. I’ve never seen either problem. Apparently, mileage varies for different drivers. Be sure you have the latest video drivers and XP Service Packs installed. I think this is one of the coolest PowerToy additions, but it does get more user complaints than any other.
Image Resizing - Previously called PhotoToys. After you install this, if you right-click on any image file, there will be a “Resize Picture” entry in the context menu. Click this, and you’ll have various quick-resizing options. Select one, and a resized duplicate of the image-file will be created. In my limited use of it, this PowerToy works really well! You can also resize multiple image files at once.
NOTE: MS-MVP Alex Nichol pointed out that Image Resizer may not work if you have disabled image preview in Windows XP. If you encounter this problem, the usual repair is to type the following from a command prompt: REGSVR32 SHIMGVW.DLL
CD Slideshow Generator - Generate a slide show when you burn photos to a CD-ROM. I haven’t tried this one — I don’t have a CD-burner. But I suspect it will make a lot of people very happy. To use it, according to the accompanying documentation, “Add only images to a CD-RW drive using Windows XP Explorer and then write these files to a CD-R or CD-RW disc. A new task is presented in the wizard for generating the autorun for the slideshow. Now when you take this disc to another computer that isn't running Windows XP you can still view your images as a slide show.”
PowerCalc - A stand-alone graphical calculator (powercalc.exe): an alternative to the standard Win XP calculator, which has a different set of functions, including equation graphing, measurement conversions, trig functions and other scientific calculations — or, it can act like a simple numeric calculator. It doesn’t really replace the standard Calculator, but does have a different feature set.
Virtual Desktop Manager - Allows you to switch between four different desktop views from the Windows taskbar. They can have different backgrounds and different running applications. To use it, add the Virtual Desktop Manager item to any toolbar/taskbar on your desktop: Right-click on the taskbar, click Toolbars, then click Desktop Manager. Click the green button, and see all four of them at once!
NOTE: Before April 2002, Virtual Desktop Manager didn’t work quite right on some computers. It might crash your computer, or just not quite render the various desktops right. Usually nothing catastrophic (unless you lose unsaved data in a crash), and the problem goes away when you disable it. I haven’t heard that this problem persists in the April 2002 re-release. Be sure you are installing the latest versions!
Taskbar Magnifier - Allows you to magnify part of the screen from the taskbar. It resembles the familiar Accessibility magnifier, except that it is rooted on the desktop taskbar and only views a small area. Right-click on the taskbar, click Toolbars, then click Taskbar Magnifier. Thereafter, whatever your mouse or cursor passes over appears in the magnification window.
HTML Slide Show Wizard - This stand-alone utility (htmlgen.exe) generates an HTML-based slideshow presentation, with lots of conveniences built in. You can view it as a stand-alone item on your computer, send it to someone else, post it on a Web page, etc. Quite cool for photo viewing.
Webcam TimerShot - This tool takes webcam photos at specified intervals, and provides various management services.
SynchToy - Sophisticated folder synchronization — making sure that the files in one folder are exact replicas of the files in another. Requires Windows XP SP2 and .NET Framework 1.1 or later.
Some Windows XP PowerToys released in a previous version are no longer in the present version. Usually, these were items with which some users reported having problems (though in some cases I’m not aware of any reported problems). While it is prudent to assume that these were pulled from the current set for good cause — due to some problem — it is also true that many computers had no problems with these.
Before installing new versions of the XP PowerToys, you have to uninstall the old ones. If you already have one or more of the following items installed and you uninstall it, you will not find a replacement version in the current PowerToys release, so you will not be able to reinstall it unless you have the original install files saved somewhere. You have to make your own decision whether or not to continue running these utilities that Microsoft pulled from circulation — I’m just giving you information about the situation (and personally declining to uninstall the withdrawn Background Switcher!).
Background Switcher - (New, December 2001. Withdrawn January 2002.) This one allows your desktop background to periodically change. After you install it, go to Desktop Properties (right-click on an empty part of the desktop) and click on the new Slide Show tab. Select the folder holding the images you want to use, choose whether they should be rotated randomly or sequentially, and pick how often you want them to change.
Faster User Switcher - (Withdrawn April 2002.) “With Fast User Switching enabled on Windows XP, this PowerToy allows you to switch users without having to use the logon screen.” To enable it once it’s installed, see Control Panel | User Accounts | Change the way users log on or off | Use Fast User Switching. You then can use Win+Q to toggle between users. (The Win+L function remains available also and, frankly, I prefer it.) To learn about restrictions to this function, search under “Fast User Switching” in Help & Support.
ISO Image Burner - (New, December 2001. Withdrawn January 2002.) As mentioned above, I’m not the one to ask about this; but a lot of people have been waiting for this one! Burn ISO images to a CD-ROM burner. Since this one has been withdrawn, a very popular recommendation is Alex Feinman’s ISO recorder, available here.
Shell Media Player - (New, December 2001. Withdrawn January 2002.) Play music from the desktop taskbar. After executing the install file, right click your desktop taskbar, click on Toolbars, and click Audio Player. You should see four buttons, one green and three blue. If you do not see these, then you need to resize the Audio Player portion of the taskbar. (You may need to unlock the taskbar to do this: Right-click on it to get this option.) Click the up-pointing button, load your playlist, and you’re off!