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Maximise Windows PC worktime with these 4 free must-have utilities

The biggest difference you can make in your productivity workflow is to optimise your gear to suit your workflow. (Image source: various / edited - author)
The biggest difference you can make in your productivity workflow is to optimise your gear to suit your workflow. (Image source: various / edited - author)
Windows 10 and 11 have a host of built-in tools to boost your productivity, but sometimes it takes a little bit more than what's on offer to really get going. There are many aftermarket options available online and in the Microsoft store. Let's have a look at some of the best third-party options out there to make your PC work for you.
Article compiled by Julian van der Merwe
The choices and comments made on this list belong solely to the author.

1. Microsoft PowerToys

Microsoft PowerToys has a whole host of features that allow you to customise your Windows experience to the nth degree. From a fully configurable window management tool to mouse and keyboard shortcut remapping tools, PowerToys has almost everything you might need to make Windows your own. Some standout features of the suite allow you to pin app windows to the foreground, batch-rename files in file explorer, and universally mute camera and microphone inputs.

PowerToys can be found on GitHub, where Microsoft also regularly updates the suite to add features and fix problems. Microsoft also maintains a user guide to PowerToys on its own site. 

Another great feature in PowerToys is Find My Mouse, which allows you to shake your mouse to highlight its position and dim the rest of the display. (Image source: PowerToys - edited)
Another great feature in PowerToys is Find My Mouse, which allows you to shake your mouse to highlight its position and dim the rest of the display. (Image source: PowerToys - edited)

2. Pantherbar

Pantherbar is a Windows Store app that adds another context menu separate from the regular Windows right-click affair. It can be summoned with a dedicated keyboard shortcut or by performing certain actions like highlighting text. Pantherbar features a visual, icon-based UI that can be extended and customised by adding and removing extensions.

The free version only allows enabling two paste actions and two user extensions on top of what is already included. For US$4.99 you get access to unlimited extensions and a few other useful features like dark mode, if you're particular about consistency on your PC. 

In this example, Pantherbar is set to present options to copy, cut, paste, search, and adjust text case. (Image source: author)
In this example, Pantherbar is set to present options to copy, cut, paste, search, and adjust text case. (Image source: author)

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3. AutoHotkey

AutoHotkey is very much a tool designed for advanced users. It works based on scripts run by entering certain keystrokes. These scripts can do anything from quickly showing or hiding files in file explorer to automating multi-step operations in specific programs. Got a specific modifier you like to run in blender, or an equation in Excel that takes a while to type out? Automate that bad boy and make your life easier. AutoHotkey even allows you to replace text when it detects a certain phrase, so you can turn that lazy "brb" into "be right back." 

While there is a steep learning curve, there are plenty of guides available and even pre-made scripts from community members to try out. It is worth learning if you have the time, since it is a seriously powerful piece of kit. 

If this looks simple or user-friendly to you, then you are AutoHotkey's target audience. (Image source: AutoHotkey)
If this looks simple or user-friendly to you, then you are AutoHotkey's target audience. (Image source: AutoHotkey)

4. Microsoft Garage Mouse without Borders

Microsoft Garage projects are projects that Microsoft employees design and create in their down time. Mouse without Borders is one such project. It allows you to emulate some of the functionality of a KVM switch without actually having the hardware. Basically, it allows you to use one mouse across multiple computers on the same network. It even goes as far as clipboard sharing, allowing you to drag and drop files and text between connected computers seamlessly. Mouse without Borders can be downloaded from this Microsoft Garage page.

A popular use-case for Mouse without Borders is if you have a laptop and desktop on the same desk and don't feel like switching input methods every time you want to move between tasks on the separate systems. 

Mouse without Borders gives you a visual configurator to help you match the physical layout of your systems during the setup process. (Image source: Microsoft)
Mouse without Borders gives you a visual configurator to help you match the physical layout of your systems during the setup process. (Image source: Microsoft)
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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2022 03 > Maximise Windows PC worktime with these 4 free must-have utilities
Julian van der Merwe, 2022-03-29 (Update: 2022-03-29)