After prolonged use of Executor, our original pick for best application launcher, we found one very glaring oversight: it still doesn't work properly on 64-bit machines, since it can only launch 32-bit applications. With 64-bit now increasingly common, that makes it less helpful, so we've updated our choice. The new champion? Feature-filled yet easy-to-use Launchy.
- Launch programs and perform actions with just a few keystrokes
- Open documents, files and folders
- Navigate to and/or search through web sites
- Build your own commands to perform nearly any action you want
- View recent applications and documents launched with Launchy
- Third-party plugins provide lots of other features, from calculations to web searches to task management
Launchy is powerful, while remaining very simple to use. Just hit Alt+Space on your keyboard to bring it up and type the name of the program you want. It will find the closest match, meaning keywords are easy to use (typing
ffx brings up Firefox, for instance). It also has a lot of configuration options for tweaking how the program looks and acts, as well as lots of skins and plugins that bring extra functionality to the program.
Launchy, while powerful, is not the most powerful program of its type. Programs like Executor have many more options, but may have some other glaring fault. Launchy provides the perfect balance between usability and features, without any glaring oversights that make it a pain to use. That said, it still can do quite a bit, especially with its plugins (though some may be a tad difficult to set up, depending on how advanced you want to make your commands).
Executor, formerly our favorite app launcher, is probably the most powerful out there. It has a lot of system functions built in (so you can use a command to lock your computer, shut down, show IP addresses and more), and you can run multiple commands with custom keywords that are easy to make. Its big drawback is that it doesn't work well on 64-bit machines, since it can only launch 32-bit programs. A few years ago, this would have affected a minority of people, but nowadays, it's a little ridiculous that the program is so behind the times. As such, we can't in good conscience recommend it as the best, though if you're still running 32-bit Windows, we recommend giving it a shot.
Keybreeze might not be as versatile in the way it finds what you're looking for, but it can do quite a lot. It doesn't do a stack more in the realm of application launching, but it does have other small features, like the ability to create sticky notes and do very basic text expansion, which are cool (but not really essential).
Find and Run Robot is one of the most powerful apps on the list, with a mass of settings, plugins and alias capabilities that let you customize 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. Its biggest downside is that it doesn't index at all, which keeps resource usage low but means it can be slower to find things.
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. We find that Launchy and Executor have a better balance.
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 (such as "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 growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools across multiple platforms.