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Hands-on: Stardock’s Fences 4 keeps your desktop tidy so you don’t have to

Fences 4 adds a new Peek feature, but its greatest talent is simply organizing your desktop icons.


Maybe you’re the type of person who laboriousl­y organizes your Windows’ desktop icons, sorting them and adding them to specific folders. If you’re not, Stardock’s Fences 4 utility may be worth a look.

On the surface, Fences—from the same developer, Stardock, that authored the recent Start11 app ( fave.co/3j8wq0t), which fixes Windows 11’s worst Start menu and taskbar sins—doesn’t offer anything truly novel. It simply organizes your desktop automatica­lly. Windows’ Win+d shortcut allows you to “peek” at your desktop, and a related Win+space shortcut within Fences 4 allows you to peek at your Fences. But like Start11, Fences essentiall­y improves upon what Windows already does.

So what does Fences do? On startup, the $9.99 Fences 4 utility ( fave.co/3gmxsco)

automatica­lly groups any icons on your desktop into a shaded region of your desktop, called a fence. (Stardock provided us a license key to evaluate the software, which is available for both Windows 10 and Windows 11.)

These fences are proto-windows: regions of your desktop that you can resize and reorganize, so that your icons move to fill the available space and configurat­ion. By default, Fences organized my small group of desktop icons into separate fences for documents, apps, and folders, grouping them neatly on the right-hand side of my main display. And by default, future files saved to your desktop stay on your desktop, not within a fence, which is unfortunat­e. While you can manually set rules for routing files by name, type, and other characteri­stics to a specific fence, which is where the power and versatilit­y of this software truly shines, it would have been nice to have an option to continue automatica­lly routing files to fences using these initial rules.

That’s essentiall­y what Fences is designed to do: It serves as an auto-filing system of sorts, automatica­lly routing files and folders to the correct fence to clear up your desktop. The problem, of course, is that those Fences still show those files—a problem for those users who prefer a clean desktop, anyway. Fences solves this by allowing you to click the title bar of each fence, which rolls up the fence, concealing its contents.

There’s one other feature that Fences pulls off fairly well, capitalizi­ng on Windows’ poor communicat­ion skills. You may or may not know that Windows allows you to quickly reveal your desktop by navigating to the right-hand edge of the taskbar. That means the very right-hand edge—there’s just a tiny sliver of invisible screen real estate that triggers this function. When you do so, your windows disappear and you’ll see everything that’s on your desktop. (The Win+d shortcut is a much more efficient way of accomplish­ing the same task, but not everyone knows that keyboard shortcut [ fave.co/3dxgacp], either.)

In Fences, that functional­ity is supplement­ed by a second keyboard shortcut, Win+space, which toggles your Fences—and the files you want to interact with—without banishing every window on your screen. The appeal here is obvious: Your desktop is simply a space upon which to store files, so accessing those files, and only those files, makes sense. I have one quibble. As a lefty, I mouse with my left hand, the same side where the Win key resides, which made it all a bit awkward. Toggling the Fences on and off with the Win+ctrl+space keys is slightly better, but not much so.

To sum it all up, Fences is something like a digital housekeepe­r. If you’d like someone to come in and tidy up the place for you, Fences may be worth checking out, especially given its low price tag.

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