Review: Fences 2 makes desktop icons smarter, cleaner, and more useful

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At a Glance
  • Stardock Fences 2

I have no icons on my desktop. I have two wide-screen monitors totaling almost 4,000 horizontal pixels, and not a single icon— because one icon often begets many, ending up with a messy, disorganized desktop and crowding my beautiful wallpapers. But $10 utility Fences 2 has me rethinking my anti-icon stance.

Fences makes it easy to get started by automatically categorizing your existing icons.

Stardock's Fences 2 eliminates all of the annoyances traditionally linked to desktop icons, and makes what's good about them even better. Installed, it feels like such a natural part of Windows, it makes me wonder how come Microsoft doesn't build a feature like it right into the OS.

Fences integrates tightly with Windows, becoming part of the Control Panel.

At its simplest, Fences groups your icons into virtual folders on the desktop. You can have a bunch of icons for your favorite applications, and another bunch for frequently used documents, and yet another for Internet bookmarks. It's a similar system to what some fastidious users may already be doing on their own–but it makes the process of grouping your icons together easy enough for the rest of us. When you first launch Fences, it offers to group your existing icons automatically, so you get three fences to begin with. They won't be perfect, but they're easy to customize: You can rename them, pull icons out or put new ones in, and move them around the desktop.

For reasons of both aesthetics and privacy, you may not always going to want icons cluttering up your wallpaper, so Fences can hide the icons once you leave the desktop idle for a while. When you want to reveal the icons again, double-click anywhere on the desktop and all of your Fences pop back into view. It's instant, and it's my favorite feature because it lets me enjoy my wallpapers and still use the icons whenever I want them. You can also disable the timeout and opt to hide or show the icons yourself.

The default fences may not categorize well the icons you already have on your desktop, but they're easy to customize.

Taking a cue from the world of smartphones, Fences 2 introduces a feature called Desktop Pages. Just like home screens on a smartphone, you can have multiple "pages" on your desktop. Bring your mouse to the edge of the screen, hold the mouse button down, and drag: The screen swipes over, revealing more space for fences. This sounds like it could conflict with some Windows 8 gestures which also use the edges of the screen, but on my desktop it doesn't. If moving your mouse all the way to the edge of the screen is too much work, you can also click the desktop, hold down Alt, and rotate the mousewheel to quickly flip pages.

Another interesting feature new to Fences 2 is Folder Portals, which let you place interactive shortcuts to folders on your desktop. If you have a folder with many files and subfolders, you can create a Folder Portal for it, and then get at those files directly. It's basically like having that folder constantly open on your desktop. It's an interesting feature, but has drawbacks: You can't use the keyboard to quick-search within a folder, and you can't drill down to subfolders (clicking a subfolder just opens it in your file manager).

The Folder Portal feature lets you quickly put the contents of an entire folder on your desktop.

Fences was an excellent product to begin with, and Fences 2 keeps the good parts and largely manages to avoid bloat. I'm not convinced Folder Portals are all that useful, but Desktop Pages are a welcome addition, and feel fast and natural. Even if you're not the sort of user who enjoys having icons on your desktop, Fences 2 may convert you. Give it a shot.

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At a Glance
  • Fences 2 is well worth the money: It makes the desktop useful again.


    • Intuitive
    • Customizable
    • Unobtrusive


    • Easy to forget about
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