The Zen Of Windows Application Launching, Part 2

Posted October 29th, 2007 by kyle

Several categories of Windows application launchers have evolved over the past several years. In this post, I’ll look at the best and most popular products in each category. I’m only going to mention products that are either quite stable or that have been updated recently.


Products in this category typically provide a polished GUI, automatically track the shortcuts on your system (Start Menu, recently launched apps and documents, etc.), and are summoned via a single hotkey. Typing a few characters will filter from the list of installed applications to quickly find the desired the one to launch, and pressing Enter launches it. The idea is to avoid having to configure anything, and (hopefully) the application quickly learns your habits and remembers the best matches for frequently typed abbreviations.

Many applications in this category also provide additional features (for instance, capture of selected text from current app, web search, inline calculator, auto-type from abbreviations, etc.) and support a plug-in architecture for user extensibility.

  • Colibiri
  • Dash
  • Find and Run Robot
  • Enso
  • Launchy
  • Single Key Launchers

    Launchers in this category provide a more basic interface (typically text-only and no icons) that is more like the Run dialog on steroids. They are also launched with a single hotkey, and filter on the text you type to identify user-defined abbreviations which launch an application, open a web page, etc.

  • Dave’s Quick Search Taskbar Toolbar Deskbar
  • Executor
  • Keybreeze
  • SlickRun
  • Start Menu Replacements

    These applications attempt to provide a better alternative to the Windows Start Menu.

  • Engage
  • JetStart
  • VistaStartMenu
  • Typing Activated

    Applications in this category provide a minimal user interface. Rather than summoning the application with a hotkey, you actually type into whatever application you’re in, and when the application identifies some abbreviation that you’ve defined, it pops up a confirmation prompt. Confirming the prompt erases the typed text from the current application and launches the application (or performs other functionality, such as typing boilerplate text) connected to that abbreviation.

  • Direct Access
  • Perfect Keyboard
  • Phrase Express
  • Some products overlap multiple categories. I’ll look more in depth at some of these applications in future posts. Some additional categories that I won’t explore are hotkey programs, full-fledged macro programs, programmable keyboards, toolbar (mouse-centric) applications, and voice-activated launchers.

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    8 Comments on “The Zen Of Windows Application Launching, Part 2”

    1. Brian Fantana Says:

      I’ve used some of these, but no Window’s launchers I’ve used compare to the ease-of-use and effectiveness of Quicksilver (for mac os x only). I’d love to see a version of it for Windows!

    2. Bob Says:

      It appears that you haven’t heard of Keybreeze, which is a shame because it can do nearly everything these programs do in a lightweight package. Take a look at it.

    3. kyle Says:

      Brian: I’ve never seen Quicksilver, but I believe Dash is the closest thing to it on Windows.

      Bob: I have seen Keybreeze (it just looked like another SlickRun clone), and I’ve added it to the list of single-key launchers.

    4. Nick Hebb Says:

      Hi Kyle,

      PhraseExpress is another one worth checking out in the Typing Activated category. I’ve been using it for a little while and so far it looks decent. It doesn’t seem to consume too much background resources – ~11.5MB memory.

    5. kyle Says:

      Thanks — I didn’t realize PhraseExpress could also launch applications (I thought it only did text substitution).

    6. Chris Says:

      If you want some great feedback on this type of software, check out the forums at Donation Coder.

      You can check out some of the freeware here.

      If you download any drop some dollars on Mouser.

    7. kyle Says:

      I prefer Launchy to FARR (not as pretty and doesn’t do non-contiguous matching of typed letters), and I did donate to Josh (author of Launchy). Dash looks very promising, but it requires activation, which I’m not really fond of (MS can get away with it, but small vendors don’t have quite as much clout).

    8. Kinook Software Blog » Blog Archive » LaunchAssist: Improving Application Launchers Everywhere Says:

      [...] Kinook Software Blog Pumping up the power in your power tools « Kinook Software Blog home page « The Zen Of Windows Application Launching, Part 2 [...]