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

Erez Zukerman 14-09-2012

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, 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:


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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    February 13, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    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.

  2. Terry T
    November 20, 2012 at 8:21 am

    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.

    • The Groovy Lab
      December 12, 2012 at 10:01 am

      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
        February 7, 2013 at 4:02 am

        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
          February 7, 2013 at 5:49 pm

          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?

  3. Luis Garza
    October 9, 2012 at 7:36 pm

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

  4. TheAncient
    October 9, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    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
      October 17, 2012 at 6:04 am

      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
        October 17, 2012 at 3:38 pm

        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 ate my answer - I guess they don't like you to post links.

    • no
      December 16, 2016 at 10:01 am

  5. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    September 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    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.

  6. Alan Wade
    September 20, 2012 at 9:55 am

    I really dont like cluttered desktops so I dont have a single shortcut on mine! Admittedly my wife is an ardent right from the beginning user of Fences but me I just dont see the point of having a great background that you cannot see because the screen is full of shortcuts.

  7. bonioloff
    September 19, 2012 at 5:51 am

    Great app,,
    But i prefer to hide all the icons on my desktop :D
    It is a make it clear and more beautiful i think..

  8. surya reddy
    September 17, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Best way to organize the clutter....

  9. Nikhil Kulkarni
    September 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm


  10. Mark
    September 16, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Stardock is a reputable company, yes. However, their CEO Brad Wardell is a massive raging misogynist and accused of sexual harassment. He's also completely unapologetic about it. To quote him directly: "I am an inappropriate, sexist, vulgar and embarrassing person and I'm not inclined to change my behavior. If this is a problem, you need to find another job."

    We should think about who we want to spend our money with. :)

    • Erez Zukerman
      September 17, 2012 at 11:01 pm

      Wow, that is absolutely crazy (and galling). I had no idea -- thank you for sharing that information.

      Outrageous as his personal practices are, we try to keep our reviews centred around the tools rather than the people. But again, this is something important to know, so thank you for sharing.

      • Jeremy Garnett
        February 7, 2013 at 4:06 am

        I agree. Focus and the tools, but keep in mind the developers who work to create those tools. Good on them for their skills and imagination.

        Sure, its a pity about their boss, but he only gets a percentage.

  11. Chris Anderson
    September 16, 2012 at 5:27 am

    I like it! I am looking for a program that is similar to "Fences", but instead of a fenced area being placed on my desktop I want a single icon in my taskbar. If I click that icon (i.e labelled Photography), then I would like all of my "photography" related shortcuts to pop up above the icon. This way I won't use the start menu (not SO easy to use and I need to search through the programs I don't use) and my taskbar will be far less cluttered.
    Is there a program out there that works like this?

    • Erez Zukerman
      September 17, 2012 at 11:00 pm

      Yes, there -is- something like that, and it's an application developed by one of Stardock's former employees. And for the life of me, I can't find it right now! I even reviewed it for PCWorld a while back, and the name simply eludes me... But it does definitely exist.

  12. Rich Mc.
    September 15, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Hey thanks for the info...I am using it now and it really is a user friendly I can actually see my background

  13. venkatp16
    September 15, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    i'm using it since long time. this is really helpful in organizing my desktop stuff. Very simple and cool tool.

  14. Tenderrest
    September 15, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    The new 2.0 beta version is worth dloading, the new features are great.
    Previous version slowed down my comp noticibiably (win 7, installed on hd). This latest has worked smoothly on win8 + ramdisk.

    Thanks for developers!
    (Stardock's WinFX5 and Tiles deserve honourable mention too)

  15. Joel Lee
    September 15, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Just installed this. I'm already loving the Hide Desktop feature!

    • Erez Zukerman
      September 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm

      Woot! :) So glad you like it!

  16. GrrGrrr
    September 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Fences is really good. But is there an alternative available with almost same functionality?

    • Erez Zukerman
      September 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm

      Not as far as I know. That's the thing about Stardock: They really know how to drill into Windows on a much deeper level than other companies. Not sure why, but that's what I've seen.

  17. michel
    September 15, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    I wanted this to previous icon layout when switching back and forth between two monitors, but, sadly, it doesn't. Ditched it.

    • Erez Zukerman
      September 15, 2012 at 2:58 pm

      I'm sorry, I'm not sure I got what you were trying to do..?

      • michel
        September 15, 2012 at 7:12 pm

        sorry, that should have been "preserve icon layout" when switching back and forth between two different monitors - i.e. switching from default monitor A to monitor B and back again.

        My system is hooked up by vga to my flatscreen tv, and when ever I turn the tv on, it sets itself as the default monitor. So it grabs all the icons and the taskbar, but fences won't preserve the layout. Then when I switch back, the layout is scrambled yet again. Fences just can't cope with this, and makes a bigger mess than Windows alone does. I have not found a solution for this.

        • Smithyy
          September 17, 2012 at 8:14 pm

          Hi Michel,

          Not sure if you know this (I only skimmed this article and replies) but I thought you might be interested to know that rather than paying $20 for fences you can pay $10 for the BETA version of Fences 2.0. This "BETA" improves upon the functionality of Fences ten fold.

          I won't ramble on about the details but one thing it does offer is a function that preserves your layout on a "per resolution basis". I couldn't check if this would solve your issue with multiple monitors, but I suspect that it might.

        • Erez Zukerman
          September 17, 2012 at 10:56 pm

          Thanks, Smithyy! I didn't even notice that's one of the new features in the Beta.

  18. how_1
    September 15, 2012 at 9:22 am

    This program changed my life when I installed it a while back. Highly recommended.

  19. Darren Reynolds
    September 15, 2012 at 8:06 am

    Love it, just set it up. Thanks :)

    • Erez Zukerman
      September 15, 2012 at 2:58 pm

      Sure thing Darren! :)

  20. Cora B
    September 15, 2012 at 4:19 am

    I love this program. I have been using it for a few months now. it is great to keep my most used programs separate from all the icon clutter. It also keeps them in nice little spaces. And I love the double click on desktop hide all icons feature.

  21. josemon maliakal
    September 15, 2012 at 1:57 am

    It is a very useful thing, when you have a lot of icons in the desktop..easy to find out and look nice

  22. Francisco de Gusmão
    September 15, 2012 at 1:07 am

    This was smething I loved from KDE linux distros! Now that I've discovered something like that for windows, I'll put it on my girlfriend's pc, she really needs it...

  23. Jacob
    September 15, 2012 at 12:28 am

    I've been using fences for a long time and absolutely love it! Not only is it useful for organizing your desktop, but I also like how you can hide certain fences. When I have to do a presentation/show my desktop to the rest of my college class it's nice to be able to have a clean looking desktop. (Instead of showing a ton of files on the desktop like some of my professors do)

  24. Rajaa Chowdhury
    September 15, 2012 at 12:05 am

    I am already using it for some time now, and I absolutely adore it. It really does away with the desktop clutter and makes everything so organised and structured. I simply cannot do without it nowadays.

    • Erez Zukerman
      September 15, 2012 at 2:58 pm

      I can see why! It's one of those tools that can really grow on you.