Turn Your Windows Desktop From Cluttered To Useful For Free With Fences

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organize windows desktopI’d like to start this post with a small request: Hit Win+D for me. I’ll wait here. Go ahead, do it. Okay, done? What did you see? Was it a hot mess of cluttered icons for every application that felt like throwing its icon on the desktop when you installed it? Or perhaps you’ve given up on desktop icons altogether, opting to just hide them all so your wallpaper shows through in its full glory?

Whatever the case may be, there’s a simple and free utility called Fences that transforms the Windows desktop from cluttered to neat, with very little effort. In a nutshell, Fences sorts your desktop icons into separate areas which you can independently move and collapse. It’s one of those essential tools that should have really been a Windows feature, and indeed, some PC makers bundle it with their pre-installed copy of Windows when they sell you a new computer.

Getting Fences

Fences is free, but that doesn’t mean its installation process is entirely fuss-free. The Fences website tries to get you to buy the $20 version, and getting to the free version may not be so obvious (you need to scroll). So here’s a direct link to the free version download page, which looks like this:

organize windows desktop

After you click the blue Download button, the site will ask for your email and then send you a download link. If you don’t feel like giving out your real email address, MakeUseOf has covered a whole bunch of disposable email services over the years, so feel free to use one of these instead of your real address (although Stardock is a reputable company and they’ve never spammed me).

The Download button takes you to Download.com, where you can see over 4 million people have already downloaded Fences, so this product must be doing something right (other than the annoying download process).

Once you have the installer, getting it set up is just the normal Next-Next-Next routine, so click away until you’re done.

Using Fences

Immediately following setup, Fences will pop up a dialog offering a bit of quick help:

organize windows desktop icons

The dialog’s design makes it pretty clear what’s the “right” option to click here, so we’ll just let Fences do its thing and click the huge button in the middle. Next, Fences wants to know how much help do you really need:

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organize windows desktop icons

Just so you get a clear picture of what we’re dealing with here, this is a screenshot of my actual desktop before I click “Sort out my icons“:

organize windows desktop icons

I know, it’s messy. That’s because I’m one of those users who have simply despaired of desktop icons, so I usually just hide them all. I’ve disabled hiding for this post, so you can see the mess. Now, let’s see what happens when I tell Fences to “sort out my icons“:

organize windows desktop windows 7

All I can say is, “wow.” That’s a pretty dramatic difference, in just one click. You can see Fences created a bunch of new Fences based on the icons I had – QuickLinks, Recent Things, Programs, Web Links (of which I had none), Folders, and Files & Documents. Not all of these are useful for me, but it’s definitely a strong starting point, and shows what Fences can do.

Removing Fences I don’t need takes just a simple right-click:

organize windows desktop windows 7

After clicking Remove Fence, Fences asked for confirmation and then quickly got rid of that useless fence.

Even with your icons all neat and tidy, you may not want them showing all the time. Fences adds a great little trick for this: Just double-click anywhere on your desktop, and all of your icons instantly vanish. Double-click again, and the Fences show up once more.

Tweaking Fences

Once you have Fences set up, it’s time to start fiddling with the settings, of course:

organize windows desktop windows 7

The Fences Settings dialog lets you pick from a number of predefined layouts, as well as customize the way Fences look:

organize windows desktop

That’s not a lot of control, but really, these settings cover just about everything most users would need.

Final Thoughts

For a free application, Fences is blissfully devoid of nag screens, banners, and other annoyances. Some of its best features are invisible, like that excellent trick for hiding desktop icons. It’s one of those tools that really grows on you. It actually makes the Windows desktop useful again. I usually remove applications once I review them, but I think I’ll let Fences stick around for a while – it’s that good.

Are you a Fences user yourself? Did you spring for the paid version, and was it worth it?

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Comments (41)

    They are now charging $9.99 for the former free version. I got a new laptop & went to install the free version of Fences. There is no free anymore.

  • Terry T

    I have Windows 7 64-bit.I just (tried) downloading the free version of Fences. The ‘Welcome to Stardock Fences’ dialog box never showed up. I got confirmation that the program was successfully installed, but that’s all I got. Fences appears in the new programs list, but when I click the application icon, nothing happens. I went to the Stardock website looking for help, but could not find anything applicable. I would really like to use this program. Do you know what’s wrong or can you direct me to somewhere I can get some help? Thank you.

    • Erez Zukerman

      That’s interesting — I tested Fences with the same OS for this post (Win7 x64) and it did work. Are you running some sort of an antivirus?

      You might want to try asking on MakeUseOf Answers: http://www.makeuseof.com/answers — good luck!

    • The Groovy Lab

      Unfortunately, now every user that ever read a positive review about a tool free for personal use (including my own customers) has nagware installed on their system. An ad for Fences 2.0, download now! With no mention that it is a 30 day trial and no longer free for personal use. It’s off my list too.

    • Jeremy Garnett

      Did you find it useful? Why not buy it?

      Clearly someone went to a lot of effort to create Fences. Surely $10 isn’t too much to ask.

      If everything were free, we’d have died off long ago.

    • The Groovy Lab

      I did find it useful, and I did buy it.

      I actually had to chase them for several weeks to be able to buy the software as apparently no one else had pointed out to them that purchases could not be completed via their website.

      “Clearly someone went through a lot of effort to create Fences”

      Yes, so why not be transparent about the software being a 30 day trial and make the business practice as good as the software?

  • Luis Garza

    Really like this as this has really help keep my desktop looking good. Now a bit more organized and could see my desktop.

  • TheAncient

    Fences 2.0 is now available – but the “free” version now costs you $10.00. While 10 bucks is not unreasonable, I think they should have told me about it rather than tricking me into uninstalling the free version and then replacing it with a 30 day trial that nags you whenever you log on. Fortunately I have the free version saved and I will be re-installing it. As a matter of principle, I do not do business with companies who try to trick me into doing things I do not want to do. Stardock: You’re off my list!

    • rafael rodriguez

      think you can upload the free one?i also had the free one but i deleted the file after installing so now that I updated its asking me for the 9.99 -.-

      if not its cool………..

    • TheAncient

      Unfortunately I don’t know how to upload files to this facility (I am not a member here) but if you google “Download fences 1.0 free” you will still get a few links to the original version.
      I did post a reply with one of those links a bit earlier but makeuseof.com ate my answer – I guess they don’t like you to post links.

  • Lisa Santika Onggrid

    I like Fences! Discovered it pre-installed in my friend’s netbook, toying with it for a while and now, two years after, it’s installed in all my machines.
    It offers scrollbar so I can use very little screen estate for my work files, showing only two at the top. If I need more I can scroll down. Nifty! I’ve tried many desktop enhancements, like Sticks and others, but Fences is my absolute favorite. You don’t even need the paid version if you just want to keep clutter out of your sight, but if you want something more, by all means go ahead. Support Stardock and its products.

    Be aware that some products (e.g DesktopPaints’ Animated Wallpaper Maker) doesn’t play nice with Fences.

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.