I cannot tell you how many desktops I see during the day awash in icons. How end users manage to get anything done is amazing. When I have to work on one of those desktops, I wind up having to scan through the multitude of icons to get anything done. For those clients, I tend to recommend third-party launchers - at least to get their application shortcuts set in such a way that the software they need to use can be quickly launched - or at least better organized.
Though many may scoff at the idea of adding launchers to the Windows 7 desktop - it's actually quite remarkable how much more efficiently you can work with multiple means of launching a tool. I've found five different launchers that I think fit the bill perfectly. Everything from an OSX Dock-like tool to popup-type launchers. Let's take a look and see if, at least, one of these will entice you into the land of launchers.
RocketDock is my preferred dock for Windows 7. Not only is it highly configurable, it's one of the most reliable and clean looking of all the docks. You can quickly drop shortcuts onto the dock for application launching, mapped drives, folders, and much more. Rocket Dock uses alpha blending and offers very smooth animations. You can minimize windows to Rocket Dock, and it offers multi-monitor support, position/layering support, compatibility with other docs, add-ons, and it's free.
WinLaunch was taken from OSX Launchpad/Quickstarted. It's a unique way to launch applications/folders. You hit the hot key combo (by default Shift+Tab) and the screen blurs to reveal any launchers that have been added. You can add as many launchers as you like to the screen with a handy drag and drop window. WinLaunch supports multi-monitor setups, has tons of customizations, optimized for touchscreens, and is Windows 8 ready. It is also free.
3. Jumplist Launcher
Jumplist Launcher allows you to pin different applications to a single Jumplist. You can create a single jumplist and, with a right-click of the Jumplist Launcher, have instant access to any application added. You can: Create jumplists with up to sixty entries, group jumplists, entries can contain command line arguments, drag and drop from Windows Explorer, and much more. Jumplist Launcher is free, but the developers do take donations.
4. FSL Launcher
FSL Launcher is a bit different, in that you hit the hotkey corner with your mouse (or the key combination) and a small window appears. From this small, tabbed, window, you can launch grouped applications, open the settings, get help, and more. To the FSL Launcher, you can add applications, documents, URL shortcuts, folders and more. FSL Launcher offers multi-monitor support, drag and drop support, DOS compatibility, multi-user support, Explorer contextual pop up menu support, and much more. FSL Launcher is free, but the developers do take donations.
8Start is somewhat similar to that of FSL Launcher, only it opens a smaller, more menu-like window when called. 8Start is skinnable, offers drag and drop support, offers grouping, and (with a nod to the old-school Linux users) gives you a quick glimpse at your system resources. The app also includes (for whatever reason) a handy countdown timer that allows you to set up a countdown that will pop up a message. You can set 8Start to appear by using a middle mouse key click and there's even a shortcut to open a browser-based Google search. This launcher is a free download.
If you're looking for a way to help make the Windows 7 desktop a bit more efficient and clutter-free, give one of these launchers a try. One of the above will certainly fit the bill and help to make your interaction with Windows a bit more efficient. Will it solve your PC and networking issues? No. But if you're like me, and being as efficient as possible means getting more work done, then you will appreciate these helpful tools.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.