Five Small Free Utilities to Help with Windows Tasks


There are a lot of free programs that do big tasks or have many features but sometimes it’s the little things that count. Here are five little programs that do some specialized Windows chores. They may not be for everybody but they have their own particular appeal.

1. Personal hotkey for a favorite program

Here is a way to put one of the least used keys on the keyboard to work. A little portable program called "Personal HotKey" will turn the Pause key into a hotkey for really easy access to a favorite program. It is especially useful for a program that you use a lot but don't keep running all the time.

The utility is currently in version 1.7 and can be downloaded at the developer's site. The download is an 813 KB portable executable. The download link is in a collection of a number of programs so you may have to hunt for it. An alternate source is at Softpedia. There isn't much description but the use is straightforward. When you first click the executable, it asks which program you want the Pause hotkey assigned to. It then places an icon in the notification area. The program can be managed from a context menu that opens when you right-click the icon. Anytime you want to disable the hotkey, you can exit the program by selecting an entry in the menu. It also gives you the option of whether or not to run the utility when you start the computer. When the utility is running, pressing the Pause key will open your designated program. The program is said to work in Windows XP, Vista, and 7. It works for me in Windows 7 Pro, 64-bit.

A VirusTotal check showed one flag out of 50 scans. This single flag looks to be a false positive.

2. Hide and unhide the taskbar with a hotkey toggle

The Windows taskbar is very useful but sometimes it gets in the way or takes up space you need. You can configure the taskbar to auto-hide but a little portable program called "Taskbar Control" offers the alternative of using a hotkey to hide and unhide the taskbar. Its description and download link is at the developer’s site. There is also an alternative program called "Taskbar AutoHide Control". The link for the program described here is labeled "Download Taskbar Control Classic".

Be aware that although clicking the download link does download the program, it also opens a page of ads. The download is a 377 KB ZIP file. In addition to the executable, the ZIP file does contain some Internet shortcuts to promotional material. You can ignore these extra files and simply extract the executable file called “TaskbarControl.exe” and its icon file “TaskCon.ico” to a convenient location. It is probably best to place the program executable and its icon file in its own folder. It also creates a small INI file to record your choice of hotkey. Clicking the executable places an icon in the notification area. The program is said to work in Windows XP on up, including Windows 8. I tried it in Windows 7 Pro, 64-bit with no problems. It didn't work for me in Windows 8.1 Update, 64-bit.

A scan of the program file at VirusTotal showed no flags.

Thanks go to sicknero for suggesting this program in the forum.

3. Resize non-resizable windows

Some dialog boxes and other system windows have fixed dimensions and normally can’t be resized. However, a little portable program called “ResizeEnabler” can change that for most cases (but not everything). The developer’s download page is here. The program is 10 years old but it worked for me in Windows 7, 64-bit. There is a review that says it works in Windows 8 but I could not get it to function in Windows 8.1, 64-bit. The download is a 42 KB ZIP file containing the executable EXE file, a DLL, and a text file with information. These files should be unzipped to their own folder. Clicking the executable puts an entry in the tray notification area, where you can disable it if desired. There is more information about this utility at this link.

4. Make a collection of icons from your Windows files

A previous tip showed the many Windows files that have icons embedded in them. If you would like to collect icons from these or other files for more convenient use, the Nirsoft utility IconsExtract will find and extract icons (and cursors) from EXE, DLL, OCX, CPL, and other file types. You can then save the extracted icons to ICO or CUR files. The developer’s description and download link is at this location. The download links are near the bottom of the page. There is a portable version in a 35 KB ZIP file containing the executable, a help file, and descriptive text file. There is also a version that provides an uninstall function for those who wish this feature. The program is said to work in Windows XP, Vista, and 7. The utility only extracts from 32-bit files but 64-bit operating systems contain many 32-bit files. For example on my 64-bit Windows 7 Pro system, the utility found 4052 icons and cursors in the \Windows\System32\ folder.

5. Replace the arrows on Windows shortcut icons with any Image you want

Do those little curved arrows on Windows shortcut icons annoy you? In a previous tip, I mentioned that the program Windows Shortcut Arrow Editor could remove them. But instead of just removing them, how about replacing them with an image of your own choice?

It turns out that the arrow on shortcuts is just an overlay of an image file. The previously mentioned little utility from WinAero that can remove the arrows can also be used to replace them with a different image. It is a portable program that requires no installation. It works in Windows Vista, 7, and 8.1 for both 32- and 64-bit systems. Description and download is at the developer’s site

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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs several websites with Windows how-to's, guides, and tutorials, including a site for learning about Windows and the Internet and another with Windows 7 tips.

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Thank you! I've been using the ResizeEnabler for a long time. It doesn't work on everything, but when it does work it's a real keeper. The other good one for me is the IconsExtract by NirSoft.

A word of thanks for these. I only needed the resize window utility, but its the proverbial "god sent" help.

I am visually impaired and therefore have my screen display size set to display 150%. The drawback is that some windows don't allow the enlarged protocol, meaning that many times the dialogue runs off the window display, leaving me with an incomplete function. With this I can resize those windows that don't want to play nice with Windows large fonts. Thank you for providing these utilities, thus saving me a lot of frustration.

You are welcome BearPup. It's always nice to hear about a good use of a tip.