Do you still launch applications by pressing the Windows key and searching for your app? Or perhaps you use the Start menu. App launchers are faster and more powerful than any built-in search system, and they can do a lot more than just launch apps and search for documents. Here's why you should be using one and everything you can do with it.
App Launchers Do More Than Launch Apps
Every time we write about launcher apps, people ask why they should use one rather than simply relying on Windows Search. Even though app launchers have been around for a while, few people realise that they can do a lot more than just launch apps. You can open documents, search the web, make calculations, add items to your calendar or to-do list, run custom commands and lots more with an app launcher — and all without ever taking your hands off the keyboard. It's much faster than using the mouse, and you'll never look back once you've tried it.
In this guide, we'll give you a taste of how to use Launchy, our favourite application launcher, to do all of these things with just a few keystrokes. Launchy works on all platforms, but this guide focuses on Windows users. If you're a Mac user, we recommend checking out our beginner's guide to Quicksilver instead. If you're a Windows user and don't like Launchy, check out our recommended alternatives — you should be able to do just about anything we talk about here with those launchers as well.
The Basics: Opening Programs, Documents and Folders
While Launchy can do a lot of advanced stuff, it's a good idea to get acquainted with the basics first. Let's start with the simple stuff: launching apps, opening folders and other things you do with typically do Windows Search.
How To Launch An App
If you've never used an app launcher before, it's a simple program that runs in the background and waits for your instructions. Here's how it works:
- You bring up the launcher with a quick hotkey (Alt+Space by default). It pops up instantly.
- Start typing the name of the application you want to launch. After a few letters, it will pop up in the launcher's window.
- Press Enter and your app will start up. You can also type in a few letters and wait a second to see a list of apps and documents that match your query.
It's that simple, and the whole process takes only a second or two.
Tweaking Launchy's Settings
You can tweak settings to customise how this basic behaviour works too. Bring up the main Launchy window with Alt+Space, then click on the settings icon to see some of your options. You can hide Launchy when it loses focus, put it on top of other windows and tweak the hotkey you use to bring it up.
Launchy uses a database called a catalog to decide what you can and cannot launch with it. By default, it includes all of the programs in your Start menu, but you can add more. To do so:
- Go to Launchy's settings and click on the catalogue tab. Press the plus sign at the bottom to add a new folder to your catalogue.
- Select your new catalogue in the left pane and click the plus sign in the rightmost pane.
- You should see a new text box pop up in the right-hand pane. This is where you tell Launchy what kind of files to index in that folder. For example, if you want it to launch shortcuts to programs, type
- Click "Rescan Catalog" to add your new folder to Launchy's catalogue. You can now use it to launch the shortcuts in that folder.
Other Things You Can Launch
Again, launching apps is the most basic way you can use this. Here are a few examples of other things you might do:
- Launch portable apps: I keep a number of portable apps in my Dropbox, which Launchy doesn't automatically manage. So by creating a new catalog entry for
C:\Users\Whitson\Dropbox\Portable Apps(and checking "Include Executables"), I can launch them with Launchy.
- Open Buried Directories: I have a few folders that I need to access regularly but are buried deep within my Dropbox. So I added my main Dropbox folder to Launchy and checked the "Include Directories" box in the right pane. Now, I can fire up Launchy, type a few letters or a word in the folder I want, and access it much quicker than I could clicking through Windows Explorer.
- Give Your Favourite Apps Short Keywords: Some apps have similar names, which makes launching them with Launchy difficult — you have to type out more than a few letters before it guesses the correct app. You can fix this problem with "App Keywords". Most launchers have this built in, but with Launchy you can recreate this feature with catalogs: just create a folder somewhere and stash shortcuts for your favourite apps in there. Name them with the keywords you want to use, such as
npfor Notepad or
mwfor Microsoft Word. After adding that folder to your catalog, you'll be able to launch those apps with whatever combination of letters you choose, which can be faster than typing in its name.
If you ever find you have a set of apps, documents, folders or other items that are tedious to access, add them into Launchy as a catalog and you'll be able to fire them up without ever removing your hands from the keyboard.
Perform More Advanced Tasks With Plugins
Here's where things get really interesting: you can install multiple plugins for specific tasks unrelated to launching apps. Launchy comes with a number of plugins, but you can also download others from Launchy's website and its plugin forum. Some plugins add certain options to your Launchy index, while others require you to type the name of the plugin, press Tab, then type in your query. Here are a few examples of useful plugins:
- Controly (built-in) provides access to Control Panel apps from Launchy.
- Killy kills processes right from Launchy, without the need to press Ctrl-Alt-Esc and wait for the Task Manager. Usage:
- Mathy Resurrected is an advanced calculator. You can type in simple operations like
2+2or more complicated things like
sqrt(16)^3. You can tweak a lot of its usage in the plugin's settings.
- PuTTY. If you use PuTTY to SSH into your other computers or home servers, this plugin will let you access saved sessions with a few keystrokes. Usage: By default, you can type
sshand the name of your saved PuTTY session, such as
putty myserver. You can tweak its usage in the plugin's settings.
- Runner lets you run any command from Launchy, as opposed to opening up Run or the Command Prompt. Usage:
cmd ipconfigto run
ipconfig. You can add other terminals and options from the plugin's settings.
- System Power adds
log offand other power-related commands to Launchy. You can tweak what words it uses for each command, such as shutting down on a timer or shutting down other machines.
- Weby launches your favourite websites and can search them. It comes with a number of built-in sites. Usage: Just type the name of the site and press Enter. If you're searching, type the name of the site, press tab and enter your search terms. For example, you can use it to search Google by typing
Google hackintosh, or search YouTube with
youtube nyan cat. Some of the built-in sites may be outdated, so you'll have to add them yourself. See the next section for instructions on how to do even more with Weby.
Create Your Own Tasks
If you're willing to do a bit more work, you can use Launchy to perform just about any task. Here are a few examples of what I've added:
Use Weby To Integrate Launchy With Any Web App
If you want to do something more specific than simply visiting a website, you can do so with the Weby plugin and some clever URL tricks. For example, if you want to get directions with Google Maps, you can use the following URL as a Weby "search" to do so:
my+home+address with your actual home address. Give this search a keyword (like "Nav") and you'll be able to get directions by typing something like
nav 123 Main Street into Launchy.
You can use this same trick to add an event to your calendar, send an email, update Twitter or add a new note to Evernote. See our guide to clever URL commands for more ideas.
Use Shortcuts To Integrate With Other Programs
If you have a favourite app that doesn't have a plugin for Launchy, you can still perform some handy tasks using simple Windows shortcuts. Many apps have command-line switches you can use to perform more specific tasks. For example, if you want to open an Incognito Window with Launchy, just create an incognito shortcut using these instructions, name it something like "New Incognito Window" and place it into a folder in Launchy's catalogue. Now you can browse privately with just a few keystrokes.
You can also follow this same process for searching your Windows system with Everything, creating Outlook tasks, notes, contacts and appointments, and even changing Windows power plans. If you have an app you want to integrate, just see if it has any command line switches and you're on your way to some pretty sweet stuff.
Use Batch Files To Do Anything You Can Code
If you have scripting skills, you can do nearly anything your heart desires with a few well-placed batch files. Just add your
.bat file to a folder of your choosing, add that folder to Launchy's catalogue, and make sure Launchy's set to search for
*.bat files in that folder. We've shared a number of useful batch scripts before, including:
- Append text files (like to-do lists)
- Start your screensaver, empty the recycle bin and sleep your monitor with Nircmd
- Reboot your Boot Camp-enabled Mac back into Windows
- Quick-kill multiple programs at once
- Cancel a print job without waiting years
You can activate any of these with Launchy by adding their scripts to a catalogued directory.
Anything you want to do on your computer can be accessed easily with a few keystrokes using an app launcher. If all you want to do is launch apps, then you're probably fine sticking with Windows Search (or Spotlight on a Mac). You will be missing out on a lot of time-saving shortcuts though, so if you haven't used Launchy before — or haven't taken advantage of everything it could do — we highly recommend giving it a shot. You will be surprised how much easier it will make your life.