Windows Aero has added a few nice effects to desktop windows over the years, but even to this day, there's no official way to make a window transparent. Fortunately, there are third-party tools that can help us achieve this goal.
Let's explore how to make transparent windows and where each tool shines.
We're not going to lie to you; Glass2k is an ancient piece of software. The moment you load the page, you're assaulted with broken Flash panels and a huge red banner declaring that development stopped a long time ago.
The system requirements demand that your computer has a 400 Mhz CPU, 64 MB of RAM, and an 8MB graphics card. In the FAQ, you can read the saddening news that this project won't, in fact, be developed for Windows 95 or 98. And yet, despite its age, it still works perfectly on a Windows 10 machine.
If you're not a fan of installing old software on your PC, don't worry. Glass2K doesn't require installation; simply download the 55 kb executable and open it to start it up. You can set it to automatically run on Windows start-up if you find it particularly useful.
When Glass2k loads up, you'll find a few options available to you. "Transparency Popup" lets you set a shortcut to make the settings window appear. The first button has to be a right-click, but you can select what other buttons to press down when bringing the window up.
If you'd rather now right-click everything, you can instead use numbers to customize your transparency. "Keyboard shortcuts" lets you set a hotkey for instant activation of transparency. Once you've set a hotkey, just hold it down and press a number key from zero to nine.
Depending on the number you pressed, the window will turn transparent to a certain degree. The 1 key makes it the most transparent, while the 9 key applies the smallest amount of transparency. Pressing the 0 key makes the window opaque.
You can also customize the taskbar transparency here. Just slide the blue bar left and right to customize how clear the bar becomes. If you like this feature, Glass2k is but one of a few pieces of software that can make the taskbar transparent in Windows 10.
Download: Glass2k (Free)
2. Peek Through
Peek Through is another entry that has stood the test of time, albeit more recent than Glass2k. It came out as version 188.8.131.52 back in 2010, then received zero updates since then. Again, despite this, Peek Through still works very well with Windows 10.
Once it boots up, set a hotkey that uses the Windows key on your keyboard. Peek Through will let you know if your chosen hotkey conflicts with another, so prod around until you find something that's free and works for you. Then, press the hotkey on a window to make it transparent or opaque. You can toggle how transparent a window becomes on the slider in the app.
At first, it feels like a lesser version of Glass2k; however, it has an excellent feature up its sleeve. If you enable the option for it, you can click on windows underneath a transparent one. For example, if you only have one monitor, you can type away on your report in one window, turn it transparent, then click a link on a browser behind it to research what to write about next.
Download: Peek Through (Free)
Coming to the end of our history tour through transparency programs, we have WindowTop. WindowTop is still receiving updates at the time of writing, and it's developed with modern-day versions of Windows 10 in mind. Older versions of Windows and Windows 10 can still download a less feature-packed version.
Once booted up, WindowTop lives at the top of your windows, appearing only when you mouse over it. WindowTop doesn't focus on window transparency alone; it has a few nice tricks up its sleeve, such as the ability to pin a window to the top, shrinking windows to an incredibly small size, and invert its colors.
You can activate window transparency in one of two ways. You can press the shortcut (ALT+A, which is changeable by clicking the toolbar icon) or you can hover your mouse over the top of a window and click the down arrow that appears, then select "Opacity." WindowTop also has the click-through feature that Peek Through has.
Download: WindowTop (Free)
For the ultimate transparency management, you can't go wrong with Actual Transparent Window. This software has a lot of options to play around with, so you can set up the perfect workspace for your PC.
When you boot up the software, you'll find the automatic transparency options first and foremost. These allow you to tweak how windows act under certain conditions. Do you want windows to start up transparent? Do you want all inactive windows to be see-through? How about when you hover your mouse over them? You can toggle these options on and off, as well as setting individual transparency levels for each action.
If you don't like windows adjusting by themselves, you can always do it manually. Compatible windows will have two buttons at the top that toggle transparency, but if they tend to get in the way, you can remove them via the "Title Buttons" option in the settings. You can also enable transparency options to appear on right-click, or apply when you double-click the title bar.
The app also features a "Ghost Mode." When activated, you can click on items behind the window as if it weren't there, but you can still interact with it via the keyboard. This lets you click on windows underneath a transparent word processor while still typing away in your document.
Actual Transparent Window is a fantastic tool; unfortunately, it's the only entry on this list that requires payment to use forever. You can try it for a week, after which it's $19.95 for the full version. If you buy it and don't like it, you have 30 days to get a refund; as such, you have a month and one week to decide if it's for you without risk.
Download: Actual Transparent Window ($19.95, free trial available)
Making Windows 10 Work for You Better
If you like the sound of transparent windows, you'll be disappointed in what Windows 10 has to offer by default. Fortunately, there are plenty of third-party tools that can help you achieve that goal, even if they're quite dated!