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I’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.
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:
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.
Immediately following setup, Fences will pop up a dialog offering a bit of quick help:
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:
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“:
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“:
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:
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.
Once you have Fences set up, it’s time to start fiddling with the settings, of course:
The Fences Settings dialog lets you pick from a number of predefined layouts, as well as customize the way Fences look:
That’s not a lot of control, but really, these settings cover just about everything most users would need.
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?