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Review: Launchy for Windows

Looking for a comprehensive replacement to the Windows Superbar? Matt Nawrocki has a suggestion.

With the introduction of the Superbar in Windows Vista, and its evolution into the fancy Start Menu that graces the Windows 8 UI, it's generally pretty effective to use search for finding files and applications to run as you go about your day. This feature in combination with Superfetch, gave Windows users a more snappy way to interface with their computers, almost on par with the experience that Mac OS X Spotlight and Ubuntu Unity provide. However, some software developers feel that Microsoft could do even better, and one tool aims to build upon the Windows desktop interaction with even more efficiency.

Launchy

Product Information:

  • Title: Launchy
  • Author: Josh Karlin
  • Product URL: http://launchy.net
  • Supported OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8
  • Price: Donationware (Free to use)
  • Rating: 5 out of 5
  • Bottom Line: If you need a comprehensive replacement to the Windows Superbar, Launchy's got it with its excellent file launching abilities as well as other operating system functions.
Launchy is barebones, yet powerful to take on a variety of tasks

Launchy, dubbed "The Open Source Keystroke Launcher" is a utility created by Josh Karlin that takes the Superbar concept and makes it even better. Launchy will not only open applications and documents for you, but you can actually go above and beyond in such a way that the default Windows way will seem quite pedestrian. For instance, you can issue commands (ala CMD style), open web pages, and even perform basic math equations right within the app, with no need to load anything extra. It also makes using a keyboard less painful in Windows if you prefer not to touch your mouse that much.

As far as the interface is concerned, Launchy is surprisingly customizable. You can adjust the opacity and fading effects, window positioning, how typing suggestions are delivered, and there is even a portable mode, which allows you to carry a self-contained version of Launchy, with preferences stored in INI files versus the system registry. By default, you can summon the command window by pressing the ALT and SPACE keys on your keyboard, much like how Mac OS X's Spotlight works. This can be changed as well if you have that key combination reserved for something else.

The settings area is full of options to change

The skin can be adjusted at will to suit your personal tastes and preferences via the Skins tab within the options menu. In addition to the six built-in skins provided with Launchy, you can also download additional ones, either from the author's website or from other third-parties. If you know where to look, I have even seen skins show up on sites like DeviantArt.

Plugins for Launchy, which can help extend the usefulness and functionality of the tool, are also available from the author's site. One plugin I found that was useful was Killy, which grants you the power to end applications and processes without having to touch Task Manager. Basically, you type "killy" followed by the tab key, then the name of the application you wish to kill.

Finally, if you are looking to expand the scope of Launchy's index, allowing the software to touch other file types and scan other disks, you can set up additional paths which can be scanned whenever you start to type into the Launchy starter box. For the average user, the defaults are usually just fine. But for some, being able to touch executable files and other file types stored elsewhere can be a great boon.

Bottom line

Quite simply, Launchy is an impressive utility that complements the Windows desktop nicely by adding a multi-purpose "action center". By not only opening applications directly, but also throwing in URLs and small math problems in for size, this goes well beyond Microsoft's standard issue Superbar area.

As a quick word to the wise, if you are having issues with external plugins, consider using the release version instead of the beta version of Launchy.

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About

An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Cus...

3 comments
plevin
plevin

I'm a tech writer and Windows 7 power user. My choice in the Launcher category is a tool from FreeSoftLand called "FSL Launcher". You can see it at http://fsl.sytes.net/launcher.html. It's completely configurable - I prefer to configure the panel as a narrow vertical rectangle on the right side of my screen. You can create any desired number of tabs, and can create icons to do anything imaginable. The panel can be closed with a click if it's in the way, and it restores instantly when you move your mouse to a designated area of screen. It's stable, reliable, and easy to use, with no noticeable overhead. A fully functional version is free, but a small contribution gets you some really neat bells and whistles. I wouldn't want to be without it.

tom0s
tom0s

I use 'FARR' launcher myself (donationcoder com). Like Dave, I struggle with a machine without it. I'm not a power user, but it does have plugins and scriptable alias's. Most advanced that I use is use 'recent files' and calculator (copyable text). Also has an 'Everything' (indexing-search) plugin.

dave
dave

I've been using Launchy for several years. It's so simple yet so powerful to search for any folder (and more). A sleeper feature is the Calcy (calculator) plugin, again so simple yet so powerful. All features accessed by simply single pressing the Spacebar + Right-Alt. The only problems that I've had were it had some issues on 64bit Win 7 with a memory leak and development seemed to be stagnant on that end. It was eventually resolved by disabling one of the plugins. The other problem I have is that it's difficult to transition to another computer that does not have Launchy installed!