Applications are pretty much the core reason that computers are useful, and I’ve seen people that have literally hundreds of different programs installed. I’m not sure how they make it through each day with the super-sized Start Menu that they normally have, but I’m guessing that they use some sort of efficient application launcher.
Today we’re going to bring you our top 10 free application launchers, and we’ll throw two gadgets/widgets into the mix as well. We’ve grouped the application launchers into various categories based upon their type: docks, menus, find-as-you-type, and then the gadgets/widgets.
There are some Mac features that applications try to bring over to the Windows side, and one of the most common types are clones of Apple’s Dock. Here are a few apps that will give you the Mac OS X dock feel while in Windows:
- ObjectDock [Homepage] [Our Full Review]
This is one of my favorite docks, and the big reason for that is the new weather widget that they’ve incorporated into the latest version. There are both free and paid versions available, and the free version actually does more than the other free alternatives listed below. Vista users can even see live previews of any windows displayed in the dock.
- RocketDock [Homepage] [Our Full Review]
This is a freeware-only dock that is well updated, and supports many of the same features as ObjectDock. Vista users can also take advantage of live previews for windows that have been minimized to the dock.
- RKLaucher [Homepage] [Our Full Review]
This launcher isn’t updated very frequently, but it is well known for being light weight. Out of all the options I would say that this one is the best performance.
Menu access to your programs is probably among the most popular launchers because of how familiar users are with menu systems. We managed to scrounge up four of the best application launchers that use a menu-like structure for listing out your shortcuts.
- 8Start [Homepage] [Our Full Review]
This is one of my favorite application launchers because it is extremely powerful. The best part is that it always opens the menu of programs where your mouse is located, so the necessary mouse movement is kept to a minimum. That may not sound like a big deal, but if you have a high-resolution monitor it can make a big difference.
- SC-QuickStart [Homepage]
This is one of the lighter application launchers, and it primarily resides in your System Tray. You can also assign hotkeys to each of the applications to make launching your favorite programs even faster.
- JetStart [Homepage]
This comes in both free and paid flavors, but the free version will be more than suitable for most people. It has several different ways to display your shortcuts, but my favorite is the customizable menu that’s displayed when you hover over the Start Menu (clicking on the Start Menu will still serve the normal purpose).
- SpeedyStart [Homepage] – Thanks to “Chance” for the tip!
This is a tiny little program that lets you customize the right-click menu attached to the Start Menu. Access to your favorite apps has never been so quick!
–Find As You Type–
The find-as-you-type application launchers have really been taking off lately. They offer what I believe to be the fastest way to find what you’re looking for, and are typically very customizable.
- Find and Run Robot [Homepage]
Pressing just a single key will launch the search utility, and then you can immediately start typing the name of the program or file that you’re looking for. When the item shows up in the list just hit the corresponding number on your keyboard’s number pad.
- Launchy [Homepage] [Our Full Review]
This is the most popular “find-as-you-type” application launcher available. It has a slick yet simple interface, and there are several powerful plugins to extend the built-in functionality.
- Colibri [Homepage]
I just recently came across this program, and it’s not only intuitive but it looks good, too. It seems to lack some of the power the other two options have, but if looks could kill…
–Widgets & Gadgets–
Since gadgets and widgets are blanketing the world of computers I didn’t think I could make it through this post without mentioning a few gadgetized application launchers.
- Vista Sidebar [Homepage]
This is a sidebar widget for Vista, and you can add shortcuts to nearly anything (including folders).
- Yahoo! Widget Engine [Homepage]
This makes use of the cross-platform Yahoo! Widget engine, and it can be setup to launch all of your favorite programs. It utilizes user-created categories to organize the shortcuts.