10 Windows Application Launchers compared and reviewed

by Ross McKillop on September 2, 2008

Windows

In this article you’ll find brief reviews, screenshots and download locations for 10 different Windows application launchers. If you can’t find one you like in this list, I’ve also included links to 5 6 (thanks Vince!) more at the very bottom.
 

Name Price Rating (x/5)
Dash Command $19.95 **
Find and Run Robot free ****
Launchy free ****½
nDroid free **½
SlickRun free ***½
Speed Launch free ***½
Start++ free ****
ToolBox free **½
True Launch Bar $19.90 ***
Vista Start Menu n/a ***½


Dash Command

Dash Command was probably the worst of the keystroke based application launchers that I’ve used. Here are my two biggest complaints – 1) It’s on “sale” for $19.95, which is the price for the “pre-release” version. It’s going to cost $50.00 after it leaves the pre-release stage. 2) It was very, very unstable in Vista (see the last screenshot below). Dash Command works on Win 2000, XP or Vista, and didn’t use too many resources (about 14MB, until it crashed – then it sky-rocketed to 200MB before I killed it). There is a trial version but it’s feature-limited to: only 5 user custom commands, limited web commands, no zip or email commands and you can only use the built in scanners. I couldn’t get the Music feature to work at all, but that may have been a limitation of the trial version (?). For the full list of features, see this page. My suggestion? Skip it. There are too many better application launchers with the same (or more) features, for much less money (free).


Launch the Command Prompt

Launch CCleaner

Docs and Files Scanning Setup

Crash, crash, crash.

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Find and Run Robot

Find And Run Robot (FARR) may not have the slick look (by default) of some of the other keystroke based application launchers, but it certainly doesn’t lack in features. And if there’s a feature not included by default, you can probably find an addon to include the missing functionality. FARR had a very small memory footprint in Vista – about 7MB. It indexes your files, bookmarks, folders, pictures and of course, applications. If you’re still using an older version of Windows you’re in luck – FARR works on Windows 9x, 2000, XP and Vista. A detailed (and always up to date) feature list for FARR can be found here. Like most of the DonationCoder.com software, FARR actually includes a list of its “competitors” in the help file, which isn’t something you see a lot of software packages include.


Default View

Launching an app

Advanced Visual Preferences

Search Behavior Preferences

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Launchy

Launchy is an open source keystroke based application launcher. It was designed to work on Windows XP, but there’s a .dll file available to get it to work (probably) in Windows 2000. It also worked perfectly in Vista (from my experience). Launchy is probably the most popular of the Windows keystroke based application launchers, and for good reason. It’s stable, uses minimal system resources (about 10MB in Vista) and has an extensive list of features (for the full list see the Launchy Readme file). There are also a number of very useful Launchy plugins for extra features, and skins if you don’t love the default look.


Launching an app

Search Google

General Preferences

Default Plugins

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nDroid

nDroid is another keyboard based application launcher. To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t my favorite. There are a bunch of plugins that extend basic functionality, but several caused frequent crashes. Actually it crashed a number of times with the default installation too. Unlike some of the other application launchers, it also indexes your desktop, documents and favorite websites (though most do index bookmarks/favorite websites). One rather unique feature is that it can replace your Start Menu ‘Run’ option, though if you’re using Vista, you might be better off with Start++ to enhance the Run menu. One big positive is that it uses very little memory, and can even be set to “Not-Always-Running” mode, which means it’s launched by the hotkey combo, and exits right after launching an app.


Launching an app

Search Google

General Preferences

Default Plugins

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SlickRun

SlickRun is a keystroke based application launcher. It resides just above the clock in your system tray (by default) and since it display the time and date when not being used, you can remove the time from your system tray to recover some space. Type help into SlickRun and you’re taken to the online help files, which are actually quite helpful. One of the neat features included in SlickRun is SlickJot – a place to store brief notes. You can add text to SlickJot by highlighting it and dragging it to the SlickRun window. You can also search through the clips using the built in find tool. Notes are automatically saved.

SlickRun has a very small memory footprint – only about 5MB at any given time. To add additional functionality to SlickRun you can install MagicWord Packs (found on the homepage in the MagicWord Packs section).


Default view and location

Search with Google

SlickJot feature

Right-click Menu

SlickRun Library

SlickRun Options

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Speed Launch

Speed Launch is Microsoft Office Labs recent entry into the application launcher uh contest. Rather than index all of your apps, it requires that you drag the app (or a shortcut to it) to a small circle that floats on your desktop. From there, you give it a name, and from then on you can launch it using that name. It requires the .Net Framework 3.0 (surprise surprise), but it’s not a half-bad app launcher. The MegaSearch feature actually includes search results from 3 search engines – not just Microsofts (Yahoo and Google are included by default).


Default view

Auto-complete

Weather lookup

Speed Launch options

Speed Launch Target
 

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Start++

Start++ is a Start menu addon for Vista. It extends the Run box and the command-line with customizable commands. Some of its features include: viewing Wikipedia entries, launching/playing music files, and running programs with elevated (administrative) privileges. There are a number of plugins available for Start++, though I was unable to get the Twitter plugin to work (uses PocketTweets). All in all, this is a pretty neat addon for the Vista start menu. If you use the Vista Start Menu as your application launcher, you may want to take a look at Start++.


Weather feature

Wikipedia feature

Google feature

Play Menu

Command Startlets

Start++ Gadgets

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ToolBox

ToolBox is an application launcher that started as a 16-bit Windows 3.1 application. No, I’m not kidding. It has of course evolved a lot over the years to include many additional features, including: multiple application launching windows, shortcuts to almost everything (files, urls, folders, drives), support for any icon size, a fully customizable user interface, and it can
monitor drive sizes and operating system up-time. You can create multiple boxes and customize each one to your liking. It can also be used on portable USB drives and even on read-only media such as CD-ROMs.


Custom ToolBox

Default Folders ToolBox

ToolBox Application Settings

ToolBox Window properties

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True Launch Bar

True Launch Bar isn’t a keystroke based application launcher, rather, it’s a replacement for the Windows Quick Launch Toolbar. Think of it as the Quick Launch Toolbar on steroids. Though it isn’t free, there is a 30 day fully functional demo (though it has some annoying nag messages). Setting it up takes a bit of work – there are a lot of options and settings, and if you try to use the settings page to create new menus, it can be a bit confusing. There’s a great Flash demo that explains how to use the “wizard” (and provides a good overview of the app). True Launch Bar works with Windows 9x/ME/2000/NT4/XP/Vista.


QuickLaunch Replacement

Custom Launch Toolbar

Access TBL Settings

Right-click Menu

General Options

Menu Appearance w/ Preview

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Vista Start Menu

Not really much to say about the Vista Start Menu. Since the introduction of Instant Search, not only does it index the vast majority of files on your PC (depending on your specific setup) – it’s an application launcher in and of itself. As usual, the How-To Geek has you covered with excellent tips on speeding up or disabling Windows Search indexing in Vista and speeding up the Vista Start Menu Search by limiting results.


Vista Search

Partial Filename Matching

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Some other Windows application launchers that I didn’t include above are: keybreeze, Key Launch, Executor, Skylight, ObjectDock and RocketDock

  • Jason

    I think the Dash review is very biased. I have tried all the launchers and Dash is probably the best. The problem with the review is that is was based on an old trial version which is not fully compatible with Vista and had many limitations compared to the retail version.

    I don’t have any relation to the Dash product or the company that makes it but I feel it is not a fair assessment. In my own tests Dash is the fastest, smallest and more feature rich of the bunch, it supports plugins too, plus their customer support is outstanding. I will contact the Dash people to see if they would be interested in providing you with an updated version for review.

    The reviews for the rest of the apps seem right on.

  • avatar

    Another Dash user here.

    Jason’s comment is spot-on, I also feel Dash has been slightly misrepresented. It’s unfortunate that the trial version is old and Vista-incompatible, but newer builds of the work wonderfully with Vista. Dash does all sorts of cool things the others don’t, like inline calculations (my favorite feature), quick definitions, and translations. For me, Dash was worth every penny.

  • Ladron

    http://humanized.com/enso/launcher/
    Enso Launcher is now freeware.

  • http://mandarvaze.wordpress.com Mandar Vaze

    DOMercury is another neat Application launcher. Similar to much hyped QucikSilver on Mac, DOMercury has 3-panes. User can do a lot more than just launch the programs. It is customizable, the developer is very responsive.
    Check it out here

  • http://www.nomagic.net peter

    Ladron said it already: Enso launcher is now freeware and in my opinion it should show up in this contest, too.
    I use the Enso launcher and some plugins for a quite long time now and was really comfortable with it…but ok, after reading this post (and a few others from your blog) I now use launchy in parallel…lets see which program survives ;-)

  • Pingback: Launchy - basic Weby tricks and appending to a text file - Simple Help

  • marinus

    My crunch issue with program launchers is one the reviewer didn’t even mention: directory and file format building.
    I gave up on Launchy because it demands one do it manually, a royal PITA [Pain In...].
    Does anybody know if any of these Launchy competitors auto-index ones hard drives for directories [and, less importantly, file types]?

  • Andy Goh

    http://www.8start.com

    My little contribution of free application launcher, feel free to try 8start Launcher, it is skinable!

  • Alex

    SuperLauncher should be mentioned. SuperLauncher launches applications with hotkeys or one click of the mouse but the twist about it is that you add new shortcuts by drag and drop. You simlpy drag and drop applications, websites, files, or folders, and wizards guide you through adding hotkeys or one-click shortcuts.

    I use it and I totally recommend it.

    You can find SuperLauncher here:
    http://www.pcwinsoft.com/superlauncher/download.asp

    Best,
    Alex

  • frank479

    Here’s another one to try. Doesn’t get a lot of pub but if you like a launch pad where you click icons to launch files, try this:

    http://www.savardsoftware.com/turbolaunch/

    I’ve used it for years. The developer is also still currently supporting the product.

  • http://www.gigglecomputer.com Phaoloo

    I love Find and Run robot, it’s handy and can quickly launch your application.

  • tminer

    These are definitely some goods ones. A new one coming out that will blow them away with functionality and customization is Clickey-Split. Check it out at clicketysplit.com It combines the best of all of these plus more features and the best part is it PAYS YOU to use and share it. It makes your life easier AND pays you? Awesome program. Beta starts for it in a couple weeks so sign-up if it sounds appealing.

  • http://jpvalappil.wordpress.com Jayaprakash

    I think RocketDock is a worthy application launcher.

  • Grahamee

    If you ignore the “techy” twiddly bits, and want a launcher for simple souls (like me) – what’s wrong with Lauchmate, which has managed to survive several attempts to replace it on my PC.

  • Grahamee

    Ouch!! – that would be LAUNCHMATE. Sorry all

  • http://me.krv7.net Vasya

    anyway “mouse extender” application launcher is the best one!

  • Quasi

    I’m more of a mouse launcher fan. Been pretty happy with “Radian” (http://radian-app.com)

  • chromax

    The fastes way to launch applications is a keystroke. This is implemented in windows itself. If you have applications with the same letter, then you need two letters. For that I recommend slickrun, because you can make your own “magicWords” that can be just one letter. Thats fast!