Software

Five free application launchers to make a better Windows desktop

It is actually quite remarkable how much more efficiently you can work with multiple means of launching a tool.

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.

This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic Screenshot Gallery.

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.

Five Apps

1. RocketDock

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.

2. WinLaunch

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.

5. 8Start

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.

Bottom line

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.

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About

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.

11 comments
dal765
dal765

sTabLauncher - 1 click launch as mouse-over changes categories. Modern, very configurable, lower RAM use than most others, tabbed categories, can hide off-screen, drag 'n drop to launch - useful if file type not associated with that program.


Can only dock top and bottom, unlike the venerable Launchmate.

xpclient
xpclient

You don't need a launcher. The Start Menu is the best launcher there is. Get a decent one like Classic Shell.

DJFridge
DJFridge

I used to like Rocket dock but it doesn't work properly on 64bit Windows 7. I now run the free version of Object Dock, which does pretty much everything I need it too. I tend to pin individual programs that I use a lot (Word, Excel, Corel, Expression etc and all my browsers) to the Windows 7 taskbar and use Object Dock for folder stacks with multiple documents/templates etc, plus a couple of stacks with some less used software. That leaves me a desktop which is about 90% clear where I can drop files and folders temporarily and still find them.

lazydee1
lazydee1

This is BS, the os can do all this anyway using a concept you might have heard of called "Folders". People cover their desktop with icons because they want all the icons there, do you understand Jack?  The desktop is just another folder. You want to give them yet another folder or other logical space in which to put loads more icons, fine, go ahead, but why?

emilycg
emilycg

I always used Launchy on Windows 7. It's one of those apps that just works with no hassle. It also has a USB install mode, and a really handy calculator function.

knevyn
knevyn

Thought I'd give number 1 'RocketDock' a try. I've always respected Techrepublic and have used many of their articles. So downloaded and started install, chose advance, Thankfully. First had op out of Toolbar add ons, then had to op out of more browser add ons, then had to op out of more add ons. Cancelled install at this point. Thanks for recommending CRAP, Ware. For the others that didn't choose the non-advanced install and now have a Browser full of crap, what are your recommended apps to help them clean up the mess? Nevermind, probably be just more bloated crap.

midlantic
midlantic

Allowing users to employ these just adds to the support layer. When I observe users with a desktop so full of files and shortcuts that you can't see the background I make the time to sit down with them and help them organize things.

Dogcatcher
Dogcatcher

It's nice to give a review to these products, but are they really needed? The QuickLaunch taskbar is easily enabled in both Win7 and Win8, and folders neatly hold related items.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin moderator

Do you condone or support the use of launchers like these in your organization? Why or why not?

Gaiyamato
Gaiyamato

@lazydee1 I agree. Under Windows 8 half of the fancier stuff some of these apps do is already part of the OS, Jumplist for example is completely redundant under Windows 8.

Gisabun
Gisabun

But mostly useful for the Windows 8 victimes. Even then, Classic Shell does a better job.

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