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Windows 10’s open-source PowerToys: Video meeting mute tool hit by pandemic, says Microsoft

Microsoft has released a new update for its retro program PowerToys, but once again it doesn’t include a utility to let users quickly kill audio and video in an online meeting while working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The open-source project is working to bring back the Windows 95 utility PowerToys to Windows 10. Microsoft open-sourced PowerToys late last year as a nod to people with fond memories of computing on Windows at the dawn of the internet.  

PowerToys relaunched a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and the community behind it moved ahead with multiple updates throughout the first lockdown in early 2020. 

The first release from September included FancyZones, a utility that lets users create their own zones for dragging windows into neat arrangements on the screen. The Shortcut Guide utility offers a full-screen display of all the keyboard shortcuts associated with the Windows key.

During the initial phase of the pandemic, the project released a Windows launcher akin to Apple’s macOS Spotlight search and additional tools like a color picker for front-end developers. Members were also working on bringing PowerToys to the Arm-based Surface Pro X.   

The Microsoft team behind PowerToys in June started playing with the idea of a video-conferencing mute utility to help people who were working under lockdown conditions and wanted to mute audio and kill video in a conference call with a single keystroke.    

It was a good idea back then and still is today, but the utility has missed all releases since then because contributors haven’t had the time or energy to deliver the product. 

At the October 29 release of the version 0.25.0, Microsoft PowerToys developer Clink Rutkas noted the release focused on “stability, localization and quality of life improvements for both the development team and our end users”.

Rutkas said at the time the utility would be delivered “in about a week’s time” because the team needed more time to ship a workable video-conference mute utility. 

A month later, the story is the same for version 27 of PowerToys. The quick mute feature for video conference will be “coming in about a week’s time”. 

“Our goals for 0.27 release cycle was to focus on end-user experience, stability, accessibility, localization and quality-of-life improvements for both the development team and our end users,” he wrote. 

“We need additional work done here to ship this out. It will be 0.28 Experimental and will be 0.27 + The video-conference utility. We skipped 0.26’s release for higher priority work.” 

However, the team has been working on general improvements for PowerToys, including a dark mode for the installer, fixes for accessibility issues, and localization improvements. 

FancyZones now has an improved experience for setups with multiple monitors, and should remember zones better after a restart.