My Windows desktop has only one icon – the Recycle Bin – yet I can open any application on my computer in less than 2 seconds. I no longer search the Start menu for applications, wondering what folder contains the program I want to run.
How can I do this? With Launchy (download)
Launchy lets you run applications by typing the first few letters of an application instead of clicking an icon to save you time. It’s similar to the Windows Key-R shortcut, but far more powerful.
The user interface is a single field that pops up when you type Alt-Space. It remembers previous applications and favors ones you use frequently. For example, to launch Firefox I type Alt-Space ‘f’. It’s the most frequently used application that starts with ‘f’ so it’s the first one to be displayed. If there were others I might have to type ‘fi’ or perhaps ‘fir’. I rarely have to type more than 3 characters. In addition, if you wait a few seconds a list of other possible applications are displayed. Choosing one of the alternates is a good way to train it to always use that one in the future.
Launchy indexes all of the shortcuts in the start menu by default, which means you can use Launchy to launch any program in the Programs menu. You can configure it to index other locations. I index %WINDIR%/system32/*.exe to launch system utilities as well as all the items in the Control Panel. Ever since I began using Launchy I rarely if ever open the start menu or control panel. When I do, it’s because I don’t remember the application name.
How is this better than desktop icons or Quick Launch icons?
If you only run a few programs, it’s not any faster, but most people use several programs. Over time their desktop gets cluttered and just as clutter on a desk can make things harder to find, lots of icons on your desktop means wasted time searching for the right one. The same is true with Quick Launch icons. Before switching to Launchy I had a dozen icons in my Quick Launch toolbar and it was sometimes hard to remember what the icon represented. Another advantage of Launchy is that it doesn’t use any space on the toolbar, leaving more room to display the windows you have open.
The only downside to using Launchy is that once you can open applications quickly, it’s a pain to use a computer without Launchy installed. As is the case with most improvements, it’s unpleasant to go back. Like dial-up users who switched to broadband, once you start using Launchy, you’ll never want to use the start menu again.
How is this better than Quicksilver? Quicksilver not only launch software but also open files.
Gloria: I’ve heard of Quicksilver but never used it. Launchy runs on Windows though. Isn’t Quicksilver Mac only?
I’ll have to check this out. I hate lots of icons and I’m always looking for shortcuts. I will often assign keyboard shortcuts to certain applications (like ALT-F for firefox), but this could be useful.
Cameron: I started down that path too but soon realized it wouldn’t scale. Every new application would need a keyboard shortcut. The beauty of Launchy is that it provides a shortcut to every application in the start menu, and then some, and you don’t have to do anything. (Well, I don’t like having things running in the background if I can help it, so I turn off the automatic reindexing and reindex when I install something new, but that’s just me).
I see, you are on Windows. This is the equivalent utility on PC.
Gloria: Thanks for the pointer. I’ll check Skylight out.
I tested Skylight out and it’s decent, but I prefer Launchy. Skylight has some more features, but some of them didn’t work. One of the things I really like about Launchy is that it just works. I can install it on a new machine and have it working in a minute or two.
I just use the shortcut launcher for Yahoo Widgets. I like how Launchy sounds, but I don’t want another program – I prefer to integrate it with Yahoo Widgets.
Meredith: It looks like a taskbar quicklaunch on steroids, which is useful, but as you get more and more applications it can become hard to find them all. I suggest you give Launchy a try just to see if it’s useful. I don’t like to have too many programs running either, but once I started using Launchy I’ll never go back.