App Launcher

I want to say a few words about some useful software for finding and launching programs and files on your computer.

The old way to launch programs:

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  1. Click on the Start button.
  2. Move the mouse to Programs.
  3. If you’re using “Personalized Menus,” some of the Program folders may be hidden, so you have to click or hover on the two little arrows at the bottom of the list.
  4. Remember which of your many folders contains the program you’re looking for. You may have to browse multiple folders and subfolders to find it.
  5. Finally, once you find it, click on it to launch the program.

Alternatively, if it’s a frequently used program, you can put a shortcut on the desktop. This works fine if your desktop is showing, but if you already have one or more open windows, you first have to minimize those windows before you can click the icons on your desktop. You also have to decide in advance which icons to put on the desktop. Personally, I like to keep my desktop icons to a minimum.

Another alternative would be to create hotkey combinations (eg., Ctrl-Alt-M, Ctrl-Shift-W, etc.) for your frequently used programs. This allows you to launch selected programs without navigating through the Start menu or minimizing open windows to expose the desktop. However, in addition to deciding which programs are worthy of having hotkeys (usually only a small number of programs), you have to remember what all those hotkeys are.

I have come to prefer a specialized application launcher. My current favorite is Find And Run Robot (FARR). Another popular choice is Launchy.

These and similar apps require you to remember ONE hotkey, and it’s one that you will use frequently. You type the hotkey (in my case, Ctrl-Space), and a small window pops up, in which you start typing what you’re looking for. Don’t worry, you won’t have to type much!

In this example, “cha” was all it took for FARR to find the Windows Character Map program (if you’ve never used this, it’s a useful program for inserting special characters like ±, ½, ¿, ©, etc. in your text). Using the Start menu to launch this program requires navigating to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Character Map. At this point with FARR, all that is left is to hit Enter on the keyboard. (There is no need to finish typing “character map.” You don’t have to select it either; FARR will automatically launch the first result in the list once you hit Enter.)


If Character Map wasn’t what I had in mind, I can keep typing to further refine the results, or if the program I want is further down the list, I can use the arrow keys to select that program and hit Enter to launch it. For example, if I was really looking for Chip’s Challenge, I could hit the down arrow three times, then Enter, and Chip’s Challenge would open. The next time I use FARR to search for something beginning with “cha” FARR remembers that I wanted Chip’s Challenge last time, and this time it automatically comes to the top of the list.


Launchers like FARR and Launchy aren’t just for finding shortcuts in your Start Menu or on your desktop. They can also be configured to find other files on your computer. You can find executable files (*.exe) that don’t have a shortcut in the Start menu. You can find documents, spreadsheets, presentations, images, music, internet favorites/bookmarks, etc., and automatically open them with the associated program. For example, instead of opening Microsoft Word, then using the File > Open dialog in Word to search for a file, you can just type the file name in FARR (or Launchy), the open the file in Word all in one step. Or, if you can’t remember whether that file you’re looking for is a Word document, Excel spreadsheet, Powerpoint presentation, or Adobe PDF just start typing the filename and chances are you’ll find it quickly and easily.

Plugins and other advanced options extend the flexibility even further. For example, the “jscalc” plugin for FARR adds a powerful calculator.


All this and more is available at the tip of your fingers. App launchers like FARR and Launchy are especially popular with users who attempt to do as much as possible from the keyboard, minimizing the need to move your hand back and forth from the keyboard to the mouse. (Hint: you need your mouse a lot less than you think; especially if you use Firefox.)

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