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Best Free Setting On-Top Windows

 
Introduction

When a maximized window is focused, the system will minimize other windows automatically. However, there are times we want a small window to be placed on top of other windows for cross reference even when we click (focus) on a maximized window.

Such applications as Calculator, Notepad, or DOS Command, etc., usually take up only a small part of the desktop area. It is definitely more convenient for cross reference if they are always placed on-top, instead of being minimized to the taskbar. Also, we need to maximize them again, the moment we need to refer to them.

The following are free programs which enhance the features of the system and help keep the applications on top of other windows.

 
In a Hurry?

Go to details...  Go straight to the Quick Selection Guide

 
Discussion

DeskPinsDeskPins is my favorite. It is a small application to keep windows on top of others by setting pins on the windows. The user interface is intuitive, just click the DeskPins icon in the system tray, and drop the pin on any window you like to set on-top of other windows. To remove the pin, click it again.

DeskPins features intelligent handling of various application types. It works on normal windows, skinned windows (such as Windows Media Player in skin mode), or a DOS command window.

It also provides an option to enable autopins, change pin colors and other settings. If you just need the setting on-top feature, DeskPins is definitely the best choice among all candidates.

 

AutoSizerAutoSizer is a good alternative if you need a program to auto detect and set pre-defined windows on top of others.

This program allows you to easily define which are the windows you need to consistently set them on top of other windows. It works well on DOS command window and skinned windows.

As the name of the program implies, it also allows you to set the size and position of the windows you need to open, or to maximize or minimize the programs when they are run.

 

FileBox eXtenderFileBox eXtender adds a setting on-top button directly to the window. This makes the task more intuitive and simpler; click and unclick on the added pin serves the purpose. You do not need to drop the pin like Deskpins.

It comes with a drawback though. FileBox eXtender's pin cannot attach to some skinned or DOS command windows.

In addition to setting on-top, it has other features such as roll-up windows, easy access to favourite and recent folders/documents with a click on Windows Explorer or a file open/save dialogue box. These features can be disabled if you do not need them.

 

PowerMenuIf you are looking for more features for controlling windows, PowerMenu is a good choice. After installing this program, a right click on an open window will show up a menu item Always On Top for placing the window on top. Other features available in the menu include setting transparency of windows and minimizing windows to tray.

A drawback of the program is that it does not support some skinned windows, including XP's DOS command window.

 

xNeat Windows ManagerAnother alternative is to use xNeat Windows Manager Lite (free lite version). With this program, a right click on the top of an open window allows you to choose Make On Top, together with other available functions such as Hide Window, Send To Tray and Transparency. Moreover, a right click on the taskbar will show up which are the selected On Top Windows, as well as Hidden Windows, Trayed Windows, Hidden Tray Icons, and setting taskbar appearance.

However, the program in the version under this review is found to have an issue when running on Vista. Upon shutting down Vista, you will encounter that TaskEng (Task Scheduler Engine Process) is still running and you need to select Shut down now or Cancel. Strangely, whichever option you choose, Vista will proceed to shut down.

 

Other Free Apps for Setting On-top Windows

These are a number of other free applications for setting on-top windows. Some were brought up in comments here or noted from other sources. As they are not rated in this review, I am listing them here with brief descriptions and links to their sites for ease of reference.

  • tay On Top developed by J. Eric Vaughan is a small program which allows you to set on-top windows, including skinned and DOS command windows, but it is less intuitive than DeskPins user interface.
  • Direct Folders with its main feature for direct access to favorite and recent folders, also supports setting on-top windows by right-clicking on the Windows standard close button. Some skinned or DOS command windows are not supported.
  • Dexpot which is a virtual desktop manager also supports setting on-top windows, in addition to its main feature of creating several virtual desktops and other secondary features such as minimizing to system tray, setting transparency, and rolling-up windows. It does not allow setting a DOS command window or other skinned windows on top of other windows. Its installer is bundled with adware OpenCandy (See Gizmo's Freeware Policy on OpenCandy).
  • RegToy's Window Manager is a powerful tool to control windows. Besides setting on-top, it offers many other features such as apply opacity, minimise to tray, roll-up, hide windows, take snapshots and comes with a package with many other utilities that you might not need. For setting on-top windows, RegToy's Window Manager does not support DOS windows and skinned windows.[Site is currently unavailable.]

 

Have Your Say

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Related Products and Links

You might want to check out these articles too:

 
Quick Selection Guide

DeskPins
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Intuitive interface, easy to use with pin design, intelligent handling of various application types, works on skinned and DOS windows.
None.
1.30
96 KB
Unrestricted freeware
Windows 95 to Windows 7

v1.30 released 17 June, 2005
View the changelog here

AutoSizer
4.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Auto detect and set on-top pre-defined windows, works on DOS and skinned windows, other useful features include resize, position, maximize or minimize.
Removing on-top setting does not immediately apply to the open windows.
1.71
280 KB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 98 to Windows 7
FileBox eXtender
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Click and unclick directly on the pin to the windows, easy to use among other features such as roll-up, access to favorite and recent folders/documents.
Setting some skinned and DOS windows on top is not supported.
2.01.00
1.6 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 95 to Vista

v2.01.00 released 23 February, 2011
View the changelog here

PowerMenu
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Other than setting on top, it has other features such as setting transparency and minimizing windows.
Setting some skinned and DOS windows on top is not supported.
1.51
110 KB
Unrestricted freeware
Windows 95 to Vista
xNeat Windows Manager Lite
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Other than setting on top, it has other features such as hide windows, send to tray and set transparency windows.
Conflict with TaskEng when running on Vista.
http://www.xneat.com/
2.5.0.85
372 KB
Feature limited freeware
Windows XP to Vista

 
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Tags

set on-top window, set window on-top, always on-top, stay on-top, pin windows, ontop window, freeware, free set on-top window, window manager

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Comments

by Bruce_Fraser on 27. June 2014 - 21:04  (116970)

I also use Deskpins.
To use in Windows 8, I needed to make it compatible.
How:
* Right-click on the Deskpins shortcut in the Start Menu
* Left-click "Properties" at the bottom of the list
* Go to the "Compatibility" tab
* Put a checkmark in the box "Run this program in compatibility mode for:"
* Left-click the down arrow under that box, and choose "Windows XP (Service Pack 3)
* Left-click "OK"

by latimer on 24. July 2013 - 7:32  (109546)

I use deskpins because of its intuitiveness.
AND I also use topmost toggle because it can also toggle splash screens and other windows M$ thinks should be always on top without my control.
I wonder why most of the "stay on top" tools don't address this point.

by Jorpho (not verified) on 8. November 2012 - 17:38  (102038)

Winroll is my pick: a tiny, tiny, completely unobtrusive, and yet very versatile program. The only catch is that it might take a little while to remember what all of its functions are, as it is so unobtrusive it makes no changes to the standard window widgets.

by MilesAhead on 6. November 2012 - 19:44  (101949)

I have updated Topmost Toggle to version 1.0.2.0. It still does not alter the window frame with any button flag or pin, when toggling Topmost. But when you toggle it gives a clearer indication of the new Topmost state of the window. It displays either "Topmost ON" in blue or "Topmost OFF" in red near the mouse pointer. This notice stays open a bit longer and uses a bit larger font than the old one.

It also has a couple of additional hotkeys. Shift Right Mouse Click toggles Alt-Tab visibility. Alt Right Mouse Click toggles the existence of the window's Maximize Box(added per user request.)

Those who already have Topmost Toggle may update using the Tray Menu "Check for Update" command. Otherwise just google and the favessoft hotkeys page should show up near the top of the search results.

by Jojo Yee on 7. November 2012 - 2:47  (101971)

Thanks for your input MilesAhead. The relevant content in this article is now updated.

by shalin on 15. March 2012 - 10:14  (90645)

Deskpin download link is not working.

by MidnightCowboy on 15. March 2012 - 10:58  (90646)

Thanks for pointing this out. The developers home page also seems to be MIA but I've changed the download link to Softpedia.

by romb (not verified) on 1. March 2012 - 9:42  (89737)

Useful post, however it would be great if support of Windows x64 was specified. Thanks.

by johnhawk on 9. November 2011 - 8:08  (82964)

Wow really nice one post here. Keep it up.

by StayoneTopEvaluator (not verified) on 12. July 2010 - 0:07  (54106)

FileBox Extender is the one I liked the most, after evaluating all.
Unfortunately the author of this says he is not maintaining it actively anymore. However the release out there that I downloaded has been doing perfect job.
It adds icons to "pin" the window to stay ontop, to the far top right next to the close button of each window and it is a no brainer to use it.
No more 2 clicks required to make a window stay on top like you have to do with other tools in the list.

by Anonymous on 19. January 2010 - 13:29  (41528)

DeskPins is exactly what I was looking for so long! Thanks

by Anonymous on 9. January 2010 - 17:51  (40707)

Just use AutoHotkey and make a keyboard shortcut to toggle the window being on top e.g.:

//! is alt
!t::WinSet, AlwaysOnTop, Toggle, a

by obamausa8 on 27. June 2009 - 0:38  (24401)

This is an interesting discussion.. thank you for sharing.

by andro on 14. February 2009 - 17:41  (16042)

I use Tray it!. To place a window over others by means of this program it is necessary to note preliminary in options point 'Enable Window Attributes menu'.

by Anonymous on 27. December 2008 - 15:15  (12552)

I have used Desk Pins for years but I can no longer get it to work on Vista. I have made two changes to Vista - the SP1 update and also adding Chrome browser and this is on three different laptops. Desk Pins was definitely the best program.

by Anonymous on 28. December 2008 - 5:32  (12581)

I am running it on Vista SP1 but has no problem. I am using Chrome too on a notebook and a desktop. Another way is to set running the program in compatibility mode.

by Anonymous on 24. December 2008 - 5:54  (12381)

Best is WindowSpace, they are fast modern and expertly programmed. Fully Supports Vista x64 edition and rock-solid.

http://ntwind.com/

by Jojo Yee on 25. December 2008 - 10:12  (12434)

It is a commercial software and excluded from review.

by peter on 19. December 2008 - 8:07  (12113)
by Jojo Yee on 21. December 2008 - 4:52  (12202)

Thanks Peter, FileBox eXtender is a good candidate. Added in the review.

by Anonymous on 18. December 2008 - 19:08  (12076)

RegToy also provides an awesome Window Manager, but you will have to install many other features you might never use.
http://k-n.co.cc/index.html

by Jojo Yee on 19. December 2008 - 7:07  (12109)

Thanks for the comments and updated in the review.

by Anonymous on 30. November 2008 - 9:34  (11229)

Like Dexpot (11/29/2008), DirectFolders sets a window on top with a right click. "Right click on Close [X] button of any application to make it stay on top of other windows."

by Jojo Yee on 30. November 2008 - 16:40  (11236)

Thanks for the info and appended in the review.

by Anonymous on 29. November 2008 - 23:27  (11217)

Just wanted to add a note that if you use Dexpot (the excellent desktop switcher), you can right-click on any window and set it "always on top", without the need for an extra specific App.

by Jojo Yee on 30. November 2008 - 6:25  (11225)

Many thanks for the note. Updated in the review.