How to Launch Applications in Style With Launchy

As a power Windows user, I’m constantly on the look out for applications that can boost my productivity. If you monitor your daily workflow, you’ll quickly notice that there are certain features that help you immensely in this aspect — the ability to quickly launch applications is one of them.

Today, I’d like to present a nifty little app that goes a long way towards making your entire Windows experience smooth and intuitive. It’s called Launchy, and I think you’re going to love it!

Overview

I have a confession to make: I loathe cluttered desktops. Fire and brimstone level hate, really. There’s nothing worse than logging on to a desktop filled with shortcuts and folders. To that end, I rid my desktop of such inane drivel — even the Recycle Bin has to go!

This leaves us with the task of finding a way to launch applications. Mac users have it easy since the Dock does a fairly adequate job here. Us Windows folks have it hard. The start menu, even the Windows 7 version, makes it easy to find and launch applications. But is it fast? Maybe. Extensible? Nope, no sir! Enter Launchy.

What’s Launchy?

So what exactly is Launchy and what does it do? And more importantly, why have I decided to yap about it today? Good questions! Launchy is a stripped out, efficient application launcher that can also be extended to look through folders, perform internet searches and much more.

It’s also quite customizable but we’ll get to that later. And hey, did I mention it’s free?

Download and Installation

Launchy’s installation process is extremely quick — just as it should be. Just hit the download page and get the latest version. It’s a pretty svelte download at just 4.5mb so it should literally take just take a couple of seconds.

The installation process, again, is extremely simple. It’s just a matter of clicking through the ‘next’ buttons just making sure you’re installing it to the right location. You can also do a portable install which lets you copy the installation directory to a different computer and still have it work.

Launchy marks itself to run every time the computer is booted unless told otherwise. But it does so in a silent manner. After booting, it’s nowhere to be found. Launchy slinks off in the background, in the system tray, until it’s called upon through a shortcut — the default is alt + space. You can use the same shortcut to toggle its visibility on and off.

Launchy residing in the system tray

Launchy residing in the system tray

Getting Jiggy with Launchy

Launching the application leaves you with a text box that’s starkly minimalist. It’s very understated and gets out of the way which is a plus given what the tool is designed to do.

Launchy - In its default state

Launchy - In its default state

Key in just the first few letters of a application you’re looking for. Even vague keywords will do since Launchy sees through errors in spelling to make correct matches. It will guess the app you’re looking for and display its name along with, helpfully, the app’s icon. At this point, launching the application is but a key stroke away. Press the ‘Enter’ key and off you go.

When you key in a few words

When you key in a few words

In case your search isn’t specific enough or if more than one app matches the search criteria, Launchy lists out all applicable results with the most probable app taking the focus. This won’t be an oft seen event since Launchy, more often than not, will correctly guess which app you’re trying to launch.

Launchy when more than one app matches the search

Launchy when more than one app matches the search

The tool hides itself intelligently once you hit the enter key, saving you time in the process. Hit the designated shortcut again if you want to launch another app. Just tap the escape key if you’ve changed your mind and would like to hide it.

Customization

You can access the configuration panel by right clicking and choosing options or using its short – Ctrl+R.

Launchy's options screen

Launchy's options screen

For a utility like this, its customizability is a big factor in whether it succeeds or not. Thankfully, Launchy comes with just the right amount of options.

Most of the convoluted options aren’t exposed to you, the user. The only things you can configure are mostly self explanatory and in my opinion, necessary. I occasionally work behind a proxy and have a personality that enjoys visual pizzazz. Being given fairly fine control over these settings makes me a happy panda.

Skins

The skins section of the config screen

The skins section of the config screen

The ‘skins’ tab lets you choose amongst the predefined skins available to you. Swapping them out is a 1-click affair and there are plenty of swanky skins on the internet.

As an additional plus, there’s no need for you to restart the app every time. New skins show up almost real time!

Extending Launchy

Searching for Files and Directories

How to add directories to the search

How to add directories to the search

As an astute reader, you probably noticed that I mentioned searching for files yet. But how exactly do we make this happen? Simple. Hit the catalog tab and you’ll see the places from where Launchy is pulling in data. By default, it looks through your start menu and quick launch which is good but not optimal.

You can add additional locations to search from through the + button on the main pane. The app also provides you with fine grained control over which file types to look for. For example, if you want to search your documents folder but only for Word and Powerpoint files, it can be easily achieved. Just add the .doc and .ppt file types after adding the directory to the left pane and you’re done.

Plugins

Launchy using the calcy plugin

Launchy using the calcy plugin

Launchy is extremely extensible due to a very neat plugin architecture. Plugins are located, unsurprisingly, in the ‘plugin’ folder. A number of useful plugins are bundled along with the app like:

  • Runner to run custom commands. Think of it as an alias for the run tool.
  • Calcy is a minimal calculator for your villainous needs.
  • Weby to perform web searches. Most search engines including Google, Bing, Wikipedia and IMDB are supported.

These aren’t the extent of what Launchy can do, of course. There are a number of third party plugins you can use and – if there’s something specific you want to do – you’re more than welcome to write your own.

Conclusion

Writing the conclusion when you’re looking at an app like this is tricky business but as they say, it has to be done. So let’s do a quick wrap up.

What It Is

  • Simple and intuitive – Quite easy to get started. No manuals or config screens to go through.
  • Free – What do you know? Some good things do come free!
  • Extensible and skinnable – Plugins and skins let you mold the app to your needs.
  • Lightweight – Requires very little system resources.

What It Isn’t

  • QuickSilver
  • Windows exclusive – No bragging rights for us PC folks.

Chime in!

Do you find Launchy useful? How has it changed your workflow? Do you know other apps that cater to the same niche? Let us know, we’re listening!

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Summary

Launchy is a lightweight, good looking app launcher that definitely deserves your attention.

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