Fences is a great utility for organising your Windows XP, Vista, 7 or 8 desktop shortcuts to make them easier to find. Read on to find out how to tidy up your Windows desktop

If your desktop is anything like mine, you'll have lots and lots of shortcuts to your frequently used applications, favourite web pages and often-accessed files. You might even use the desktop to store some files themselves, possibly some folders, too. See also: Make Windows start faster with Autoruns

I try to keep these organised in groups so I can find them easily, but this is never particularly efficient. Grouping shortcuts on the desktop can feel a bit hit and miss. See also: How to shut down Windows 8 with your computer's power button

You might not leave enough space for a particular group and have to rearrange other icons to change its size, or you might want to move groups around as their relative importance changes. Fiddling with individual shortcuts on the desktop can take time, and Windows strangely offers no way to save icon positions.

Enter Stardock Fences. This brilliant little utility, which some might argue Microsoft should have produced years ago, lets you do all of this and more.

Fences essentially creates a small 'trays' on the desktop into which you can put whatever it is that you want to keep together.

Maybe you find yourself accessing three or four folders on your hard drive so much that you’ve created desktop shortcuts for them. Alternatively you might be working on a project that requires you to access lots of different documents on a regular basis.

Or, you might like to keep application shortcuts grouped according to their type, such as games, productivity and so on.

In these scenarios, Fences will help you out a lot. Its little drawers will allow you to keep these documents and shortcuts together in easily identifiable groups.

You can position the drawers wherever you want on the screen and even stretch them across more than once screen. Fences are easy to hide if they are getting in the way, can be quickly reconfigured or repositioned. They are easily removed when you are done with them too, and your original documents remain wherever they’ve been filed on your computer. New desktop icons can even be automatically sorted into an appropriate 'fence'.

Fences runs on Windows 8, 7, Vista and XP though some features require Windows 7 or 8. You can try Fences for free for 30 days, and if you like it, the full application costs around £6.

How to use Stardock Fences

Step 1 Go to Stardock's website. Select Get it Now and choose the free version of Fences, which is a 30-day trial. You’ll need to enter your email address and then click the link in an email to download the application. Follow the installation instructions.

Stardock Fences 1

Step 2 When the application first runs it can automatically set up some fences for you. If you already have some icons on your desktop, choose this option as it's easy to change and will give you a good idea of how Fences works in practice.

Stardock Fences 2

Step 3 A number of Fences are created in our case just three – Programs, Folders, and Files & Documents, two of which were empty. You might find more are created depending on what’s on your desktop.

Stardock Fences 3

Step 4 Drag a Fence to a new location or double click anywhere outside a fence to hide all fences. If you want some to remain visible and others hidden, click the top bar of any Fence and from the menu choose View then 'Exclude this Fence from quick-hide'.

Stardock Fences 4

Continues on next page ->

Here we continue our tutorial on how to use Stardock Fences

Step 5 Create a new Fence by drawing a rectangle on the screen then selecting Create Fence here. Then give the Fence a name (click the name later to change it) and drag icons from the desktop or from folders on your hard drive.

Stardock Fences 5

Step 6 If you don’t want any of the auto-configured Fences, or you no longer need a Fence, click the X top right of its window. You can either remove just the Fence or remove the Fence and delete files. The first option puts the shortcuts and files back onto your desktop.

Stardock Fences 6

Step 7 Fences adds a Control Panel option which you can use to customise the colour and transparency of individual Fences or the whole lot, and make more settings. You’ll find it in the Appearance and Personalization area of the Control Panel.

Stardock Fences 7

Step 8 As well as holding individual apps and files, Fences can be portals to folders. Draw a rectangle on the desktop and this time select Create Folder Portal Here. In the Explorer window choose a folder. When the Fence is created you can name it.

Stardock Fences 8

Step 9 If you find things get really busy you can position Fences on top of each other. Careful use of this system can be helpful, but it can make things difficult to see. Alternatively you set up additional screens of Fences – put the cursor to the edge of the screen and drag to create a new screen.

Stardock Fences 9