Must Have Application - Launchy Program Launcher

Sometimes our best tools are the ones we take for granted the most. For me, one such tool is Launchy, a free Windows app that lets you launch programs with just a few quick keystrokes. But it's not just for launching programs—it's an all-around productivity booster that does much more.
Published: May 31, 2007
Author: Jordan Running
Related OS: Windows

Sometimes our best tools are the ones we take for granted the most. For me, one such tool is Launchy, a free Windows app that lets you launch programs with just a few quick keystrokes. But that's not all.

If you're keyboard-phobic, that is, if you only use the keyboard for typing and never for keyboard shortcuts like Alt+Tab (for switching windows), Ctrl+C (to copy), or Ctrl+V (to paste) then Launchy might not be the tool for you, because it's accessed almost exclusively via the keyboard. On the other hand, if you want to loose yourself from the shackles of the oft-cumbersome mouse, you may want to read on anyhow.

Using Launchy is simple. Once you've installed and started it, you won't see anything, but it's actually hiding in the background waiting to be summoned. To use it, hold down Alt and press the space bar. You'll see a nondescript box like this pop up:


Now start typing the name of the program you want. Launchy has already indexed the programs in your Start menu, and as soon as you start typing Launchy will try to guess what program you want. For example, if you type "pa" Launchy might guess you want to run Paint. As soon as the program you want shows up, you don't have to type any more, just press enter and Launchy will launch the program. If it guesses wrong, you just have to type a few more letters until it comes up with the right one, then press enter.

Alternatively, instead of typing more letters, you can use the up and down arrow keys to choose from among Launchy's other guesses. While this might seem like extra work, it's actually very useful because it invokes Launchy's powerful learning feature.

Launchy learning

When you type a few letters, or just one, and then scroll down to a particular program, Launchy will remember that in the future. So if you use, say, Firefox a lot, you can just type "f" in Launchy, then scroll down to Firefox and press enter, then every time you type "f" in the future, Firefox will be the first option Launchy offers up.

Now, I wasn't lying when I said that Launchy does more than just launch programs. In addition, it also indexes your documents, your favorite web sites, and more. (Don't worry, all of this is stored on your computer; Launchy never connects to or sends any of your data to the internet.) By default, Launchy looks for files in all of the usual places like your desktop and My Documents, but if you keep files elsewhere on your hard drive, fret not, Launchy has you covered. You can add as many other folders as you want to Launchy's index. Just summon Launchy (Alt+Space, remember), then right-click (yes, you still have to use the mouse for some things in Launchy) anywhere on Launchy other than the text box, and choose "Directories." This will bring up a window where you can add any directory you want to Launchy's index, as well as control what file types you want indexed.

Launchy Directories

Now, at the risk of sounding like an infomercial: But wait, there's more! You can also use Launchy for various web tasks: You can search Google by typing "google," then pressing Tab, then whatever you want to search for, you can check the weather forecast by typing "weather," Tab, then the city or zip code, or you can go straight to any web site by typing the address, but it must start with "http://" or "www.".

My favorite extra Launchy feature, however, is the built-in calculator. Just type in any mathematical expression, and Launchy will tell you the solution. Okay, not quite any expression, but the basic stuff: addition, subtraction, multiplicationion.

Launchy calculator

Finally, Launchy is customizable. If you don't like Alt+Space for summoning Launchy (it's a little awkward in my opinion), right-click on Launchy and choose "Hotkey," whereupon you can define your own keyboard shortcut. If you don't like the way Launchy looks, it comes with several other skins (right-click and choose "Skins") and you can download more user-created skins from the web. There's also a plugin forum with user-created plugins that add additional functionality, but the selection isn't enormous and there are more than a few broken links.

Launchy is a snap to use and a real time-saver. Perhaps the hardest thing about it is training yourself to press Alt+Space instead of reaching for the mouse when you want to launch a program, but once you do have yourself trained it becomes effortless, automatic, and indispensable.

About Jordan Running

Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.

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