• The rebirth of Windows PowerToys. Not.

    The hype machine is in high gear.

    Latest headline: Microsoft re-releases Windows PowerToys, this time as an open source project.

    Many of you have asked why I haven’t commented on the return of one of Windows’ most-beloved add-ons. It’s complicated.

    The Win95 PowerToys were great. I wrote about them in many books and sang their praises in dozens (hundreds?) of articles.  But the “PowerToys” that Microsoft released aren’t PowerToys in the traditional sense of the term. They’re two add-ins that may or may not do what you want.

    Here’s how I described the PowerToys in WinXP Hacks & Mods for Dummies:

    The collection of programs known as Windows PowerToys started as kind of a “skunk works” project back in the early days of Windows 95. The folks who wrote the shell of Windows 95 built a whole lot of capability into the program that never saw light of day: tweaks and twiddles and (yes) hacks and mods that, thanks to The Powers That Be, never made it into Windows 95’s official feature set.

    As the Windows 95 effort wound down, a few bored developers spent time perfecting their testing tools — their Power Toys. After Win95 hit the stands, some enterprising engineer convinced The Powers That Be to release those internal testing tools, to make it easier for guys in white lab coats (like me!) to dig deeper into the belly of the beast. The programs were unpolished, unsophisticated, hadn’t been designed or reviewed by committees, never saw the inside of a Microsoft Usability Lab@@mdand they proved wildly popular with the techie crowd.

    The Powers That Be asked the engineers for more, and they gladly obliged, in many cases gleefully resurrecting features that TPTB had zapped from the shipping version of Win95. That’s how TweakUI came into being. The guys and gals who built all of these cool capabilities into Windows, only to see them clipped by the Bean Counters, Usability Droids, and Marketing Flaks, got a chance to strut their stuff. And, boy howdy, did they show those Bean Counters a thing or three.

    The PowerToys had a great run with Win95 and then XP — and then Microsoft dropped them in Vista. The TweakUI PowerToy, in particular, had all sorts of capabilities that took many years for Microsoft to absorb into Windows. For years, the SyncToy stood out as the best way to sync files.

    These new “PowerToys” don’t have the same genesis. They don’t cover the same ground. And they don’t have the same renegade spirit. But they do have one trait the old geezers didn’t: They’re open source, so anybody can go in and change them. Which is great.

    Anyway, if either of these new “PowerToys” strike your fancy, by all means install them:

    • Maximize to new desktop: Hangs off the restore button; click on it and Windows creates a new desktop with that app’s window maximized.
    • Windows key shortcut guide: Hold down the Windows key and see all the shortcuts. Just like the Alt key in the Office programs.

    Microsoft promises those two utilities will be out this summer (North America season), with a “backlog” of utilities they’re considering.