The Best Application Launcher For Windows

Windows has a bevy of great app launchers available, but when it comes to power, ease of use, and configurability, Executor is our pick for the best.

Executor

Platform: Windows Price: Free Download Page

  • Launch programs and perform actions with just a few keystrokes
  • Open documents, files and folders
  • Navigate to and/or search through websites
  • System functions like lock, shut down, show IP addresses, turn off monitor, and more
  • Do multiple tasks at once with one keyword
  • Select clipboard entries from your clipboard history, strip them of their formatting, and paste them wherever you want.
  • View all recent documents
  • List and manipulate running applications
  • Much, much more (see the home page for more information).

Executor is very versatile. The first time you start it up, it lets you choose between indexing your files for fast and easy searches, or turning off indexing and using solely keywords for running commands. It'll even let you pick how it searches, choosing between short-form (e.g. ffx would bring up the closest match, Firefox), "word starts with" (only fire would bring up Firefox), or "text contains" (fox would bring up Firefox). It has more options than you know what to do with, while staying fairly easy to configure. Like most of our favourite apps, its biggest strength is that it lets you configure it to work exactly how you want it to, without being overly advanced.

Executor, while it isn't too difficult to set up, can be a tad overwhelming when you first start using it. It's not nearly as confusing as some of the competition, and finds a good balance between features and usability, which is tough. If you choose to index your files, it can also be a little resource heavy, but that's a price you'll pay with many application launchers. Overall, its cons are few and far between, and unless you just want a simple application launcher, it's probably the most likely to make you happy.

Keybreeze might not be as versatile in the way it finds what you're looking for, but it can do quite a bit. In the end, Executor does just about everything we could want, but Keybreeze has a few extra features, like the ability to create sticky notes and do very basic text expansion, which is cool (but not really essential).

Launchy is probably the most popular application launcher. It's powerful, and has a great plug-in system that allows for lots of customisation, but even with its plugins just doesn't quite measure up in advanced features with Executor or Keybreeze. If you're looking for a simple app launcher, though, Launchy is perfect. It does what you want it to do without much configuration on your end, though it does allow for quite a bit if you're willing to dig into the settings.

Find and Run Robot is one of the most powerful apps on the list, with a ton of settings, plugins, and alias capabilities that let you customise a lot of how it works. It's a bit more difficult to set up, since it's so advanced, but it's good if you have very specific needs. It's biggest downside is that it doesn't index at all, which keeps resource usage low but can be slower to find things. Executor lets you choose, which is one of the reasons why it's just the best there is.

SlickRun is similar to Find and Run Robot in the sense that it focuses heavily on aliases, though it's much more intuitive to set everything up and use it. What you gain in usability you sacrifice in number of features, however, and once again, Executor seems to give you the best of both worlds.

Enso works a little differently than the others. Instead of hitting a key combo, you hold down the Caps Lock key, type in your command (i.e. "open firefox"), and release Caps Lock to activate it. You can activate it in a more traditional manner, too, but that's what really sets it apart. It seems strange, but you get used to it. You can also add aliases (called "favorites") and jump to any open program with its "go" command.

Lifehacker's App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.


Comments

    * "differently than" should be "differently to"

    For my personal, non-production home computing, I can't envisage any scenario where an application launcher would benefit me.

      Er,... then why mention it? #}

        I suppose I was just surprised to learn that such an app would benefit a large enough subset of LH readers to make it worthwhile posting this article at all.

        Like Dylan (comment below) I'm in government using XP, so I wouldn't be able to use such apps at work anyway (where they might actually be useful).

        Also, generally speaking, I comment because people tend to care what I think. ;)

    You forgot the best one of all! "True Launch Bar" Ok it has a lifetime price of $20.00 but you get regular updates with that. Plus it's simple, there's just one click after you use the quick mouse over icon navigation, It's very fast, it's beautiful and fully customisable! I've been using and recommending it for years. It simply runs in place of your quick launch. I just make a series of folders with personalised icons for Games, Net, Utility, Office, DVD etc. Then I drag the exe from each progy I want in each folder, and viola! Worth every penny twice over!! #]

    I don't get it. What's so difficult about pressing "windows key", typing a name, then hitting enter.

    Just tested it then and it instantly came up with any program I could think of using on a regular basis

      If you like typing into search to find your programs, that's good for you, being a hunt and peck man myself, I'd rather not! #}

        wow EckyThump, you are really hitting the comments of late - how do you get time to reply 50 times per day?

          Yeah, I was wondering when someone would politely ask about that! I'm a retired and somewhat antisocial Ex soldier with a few bits that don't work as well as they should anymore! Tech sites have become a kind of hobby for me! There are other reasons, but that's kind of personal! #]

          Oh,.. plus I am quite tech oriented, and love to see what's coming round the bend!

        Hi Ecky, Wondering; if you're "a hunt and peck man", how will this benefit you - you could just keep using the Start Menu, there are plenty of opportunities (especitically in Win7) to hunt (and wait ... and wait some more) and peck ;-)

        Personally I set my start menu to Classic and have my frequent used programs with their own letter/number, I hit WIN to bring it up, then the letter or number and the app runs. Either that or WIN+R and enter 'winword' or 'excel' and hit Enter. I'm not sure why, but people watching always comment that "I have no idea what you're doing", and I'm just doing the same as they would except that my interactions aren't being delayed by mouse movements.

        Keyboard control FTW!

    Total Commander http://www.ghisler.com/ is hard to beat

    This program is awesome. I use it to bookmark network folders at work and quickly launch applications. I am Gov so we still use XP but even on a windows 7 PC this is faster for finding applications as well as other windows functions. The list it provides me when searching is almost always better than what the windows search box provides.

    I have this start button down on the bottom left of my screen. Pretty sure it came with the OS, so I'm surprised people need replacements for something that's already rather feature-rich and customisable.

      Have to agree with you here Stephen!

      I wonder what would happen if you changed the analogy to a car instead of your OS...

      The Start Button was the big selling point of Win95 - 'click here to begin...', and it's been there ever since so I think it's a fair assumption to compare it to a steering wheel. Only that you wouldn't really be replacing it because you can't really get 'rid' of the Start menu (unless you're installing a Shell Replacements http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_shell_replacement )... you'd be installing an additional steering wheel beside the already-installed one. You'd be able to choose to use the factory installed one, or switch over to your custom add-on, depending on the situation lol.

      Being that I use keyboard shortcuts for almost everything I can't see a reason to install an additional steering wheel, for example I use WIN+N to open Notepad++ (using AutoHotkey script), either that, or WIN+R and 'notepad++'. It's so much quicker than point, click, click, etc. :-P

    I've been using Radial Menu for awhile now. It takes some time to set up, but I couldn't imagine a faster, more efficient way to launch programs, or navigate around to commonly used sub-folders. It also just became a lot easier to set up (http://www.autohotkey.com/forum/topic50813.html)

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