In the same way that you can tell a lot about a person by looking at their physical desktop, you can also deduce a similar amount of information from a person’s Windows desktop.
If you’re living in a world of virtual clutter, it might be sensible to turn to a third-party desktop management app for help. The most well-known is Fences, but there are plenty of other options out there too.
Here are the best free alternatives to Fences for managing and organizing your Windows desktop.
Wait, how can Stardock’s Fences be an alternative to Fences? Hear me out.
These days, Fences is a paid app. You can enjoy a 30-day free trial, but thereafter you’ll need to pay $10 for the app. If you want the full app, including Object Desktop, it will cost you $50.
However, Fences hasn’t always been a paid app. Back when it was first making a name for itself, the app was free.
And the good news? You can still download that old, free version of Fences. Sure, it doesn’t have quite as many bells and whistles as the newest releases, but it still works well.
Download: Fences v1.01 (Free)
2. Nimi Places
Nimi Places is a desktop organizer software that lets users organize their desktop into customizable containers. Each container can hold files and folders from multiple locations, and each file or folder can be displayed as an icon or a thumbnail.
From an organizational standpoint, you can add colored labels and create rules for containers so specific actions will be performed at pre-defined times. Each container can use an individual theme, and you can use different size icons within each container to aid onscreen visuals. The containers also have a built-in media previewer.
The thumbnails are also worth looking at in more detail. Nimi Places doesn’t only have the ability to create thumbnails of images and videos—it can also work with Photoshop files, web page shortcuts, folder directories, and an assortment of productivity files.
Download: Nimi Places (Free)
If you’re an Apple user, you will be familiar with Launchpad on macOS. Yes, you can customize the Start Menu in Windows 10 to partially replicate it, but having all your installed apps neatly displayed with a single click is super convenient and a true time saver.
If you’re the type of person who has hundreds of app shortcuts on your desktop, give XLaunchpad a try. It brings the Mac Launchpad experience to Windows. Once installed, you’ll see a Rocket icon on your desktop. Click the icon, and you’ll see all your apps. You can finally delete all those app shortcuts from your desktop.
Download: XLaunchpad (Free)
People who’ve used Fences for Windows will like SideSlide. It is the Windows equivalent of shoving all the clutter on your physical desktop into your office drawers. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
The program centers around a Workspace. Within the Workspace, you can add containers, shortcuts, commands, URLs, RSS news feeds, pictures, reminders, notes, and a whole lot more.
All the content in your Workspace is readily available with just a single click. Just dock the app to the side of the screen, and it stays out of sight when not in use; hover your mouse over the dock and it will instantly expand.
Customization is SideShare’s priority. With a bit of tweaking, you can get the app working exactly the way you want. Check out the video above for a glimpse into what it’s capable of.
Download: SideSlide (Free)
Another computer desktop organizer for Windows 10, ViPad, also takes a container-based approach to organizing your desktop. However, it just uses one single container, with tabs along the top of the container’s window allowing you to jump between the different groups of content.
Tabs can hold apps and documents, web links, social media contacts, and even music. The tabs are fully searchable (just start typing to start looking), and can be rearranged to suit your needs using drag-and-drop.
Best of all, you can customize your tabs by downloading free Windows 10 icons from the ViPad website.
Download: ViPad (Free)
6. TAGO Fences
TAGO Fences is the most lightweight app on this list. If you just want a few core features without all the added extras you’ll probably never use, check it out.
It’s also arguably the most Fences-like experience, with the aforementioned Nimi Places coming in a close second.
The app lets you store multiple shortcuts and apps within each fence, and has a scroll bar in case the list of icons becomes too big for the container.
For each container, you can change the background and tile colors, show or hide individual icons, and drag and drop your content into your preferred order.
Download: TAGO Fences (Free)
7. Virtual Desktops
We know some of you try to avoid third-party apps wherever possible, so we’ll conclude with the native Windows 10 Virtual Desktops feature.
Windows 10 marks the first time multiple virtual desktops have become a mainstream feature. Used correctly, they can massively reduce the amount of clutter on your desktop. For example, if your desktop is a jumble of Steam shortcuts, college assignments, and fresh memes you found on Reddit, why not give each category its own desktop space?
To create a new desktop, click on the Task View icon on the taskbar, or press Windows + Tab. On the new window, click + New Desktop in the upper left-hand corner. To cycle between desktops, press Windows + Ctrl + Left Arrow (or Right Arrow), and to close a desktop, press Windows + Ctrl + F4.
The Best Fences Alternative for Windows 10
As we briefly alluded to earlier in the article, Windows 10 is potentially on the way to making all these apps redundant. You can now use the Start Menu to group shortcuts and apps into expandable folders (just drag one icon over the top of another to get started). If you pair the Start Menu with virtual desktops, you can argue apps like Fences are reaching the end of their life cycle.
If you’re looking for the most Fences-like experience, we recommend TAGO or Nimi.
If you would like to learn more about staying organized while using Windows, check out our articles on whether you should use Windows Mail or Outlook and how to quickly share a file from Microsoft Explorer.