Keyboard oriented application launchers


Last week I set out to find the best tools I could to increase my overall productivity when doing my everyday tasks and I want to share my experience. When writing this I quickly realized that putting everything in one chunk would make it quite long and as a fan of blog post brevity I decided to split it into a few posts. This one will cover applications that allow you to quickly launch other programs on your machine.  First thing I’ll mention is what lead me to this search in the first place and that is – dock applications. You know the ones like in Mac OS that sit at the bottom or some other part of your screen and look pretty, but in my experience are a huge obstruction to productivity. I thought I was solving the problem with the desktop clutter by having all of the useful applications at my fingertips. But the thing is I’m always conserving the screen’s real estate especially when coding and so I set the auto-hide option. It took only a few days to bother the hell out of me because there’s no place for it at the bottom because of the task bar, no place at the top because it pops up when I’m trying to reach a menu item. It’s annoying even at the sides of the screen because of the scrollbars and the layout of some of the applications that I use. I wanted to get rid of it so badly, but I still wanted a quick way to launch my applications without going back to desktop, opening the whole Start menu hierarchy or remembering tons of hotkeys for each application.

The solution that came to mind was to use a program like launchy, but I wanted to explore a little bit and see the alternatives. My key criteria was that I wanted to use the keyboard as much as possible without having to reach for the mouse and as a result I expected a fast and convenient way to launch any application that I have on the system. My candidates included the following:

All of these applications have different features, but they’re all similar in that they can be summoned from anywhere by hitting some hotkey and then entering the command that you want to execute. I have quickly came to love this feature of omnipresence, it really gives the feel of total control. Launchy was really only a baseline application and I dismissed it fairly quickly. I’m not saying there’s something wrong with it, I just that other applications are more to my liking. The Executor seemed to be the most customizable one with lots of switches and knobs to click and turn to set it up just the way you like it. Still it’s really simple to start using it right after installing it. I really liked Enso products and their whole idea of humanized software and nice sleek design. If you have time I really recommend you watch the videos on their page and familiarize yourself with their ideas. Even if you disagree with them it might give you a different perspective on the way we use computers and the everyday tasks that could be simplified. Enso products allow you do much more than just launch programs, I would call it a different way of interacting with the computer. The Enso Words application when installed complements the Launcher by adding a spellchecker, thesaurus and word/character counter to your command inventory. If you’re interested in the concept there’s a Firefox add-on that follows the same way of thinking, it’s called Ubiquity. And last but not least is Desktop Search by Google. I was skeptical about this one at first, but it just goes to show you that prejudice can sometimes prevent you from using great software. The way it is setup out of the box didn’t really appeal to me, since I don’t need another application sitting on the side of the screen or worse yet on the taskbar so the first thing I did was turned that off, then I minimized the index files just to the text ones and installed the Larry’s Any Text File Indexer which allowed me to configure the specific text files that I want to index. In my case those were various source code related files like java, xml, jsp and others. It’s a little strange that it only indexes files when the computer is idle and doesn’t allow you to request the scanning as a foreground process. Still, when the indexing is done it’s really nice to have not only all the programs on the system, but also all the specified text files available for quick opening from anywhere. So for now my weapon of choice is the Desktop Search. If you have an opinion about the tools discussed here or want to share what works best for you, leave a comment.