Best Free Program Launcher

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Introduction

Windows provides a number of ways to launch installed programs or features. There's the Start Menu, there's shortcuts on the Windows desktop, there's even the Windows Search and Run features. For many people, the facilities already available are quite sufficient.

However, without organisation, the Programs section of the Start menu can become a very busy place. Programs have shortcuts placed in folders named after the program itself, or sometimes the publisher, or sometimes the category the program belongs in. If you're anything like me and you install programs a lot, you probably put the program you're installing in the default location and allow it to put a shortcut on the desktop and sometimes in the Quick Launch bar -- and once it becomes almost impossible to see your wallpaper for icons, you start deleting shortcuts you don't often use or dump them in folders on the desktop, or some other location and, over time, the natural entropy of the Universe and your own need to do stuff WITH your computer rather than spend time organising it conspire to make you wish for an easier way.

Program Launchers try to provide a more efficient way to work. Some try to help you find the program you want to run but can't find the shortcut for; some help you impose order on your system by giving you organisational tools that supercharge the facilities you have, or replace them entirely.

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This article reviews program launchers in five subcategories below:

 

Find And Run Robot  

An easy-to-use launcher with a lot of power, extensibility and configurability under its hood.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Limited features)
Effective, comprehensive, extensible and extremely configurable.
Unindexed searching can make it slower.
Read full review...

Launchy  

An open-source and cross-platform launcher that's simple to understand, configure, use and extend.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Open source)
Simple and fast, cross-platform.
Some glitches since version 2.
Read full review...

Best Free Program Launcher By Keyword Command

SlickRun  

A free floating command line utility for Windows gives you instant access to any program or website with MagicWords.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Tiny footprint, simple interface, unobtrusive, easy to work with, mature and well supported.
Requires customisation beyond the basic, so not ideal for everyone.
Read full review...

Best Free Program Launcher By Panels

8Start  

A free portable launcher shines in many key areas like footprint and functionalities.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Top in many key areas like footprint and functionalities.
Configuration can be complicated.
Read full review...

FSL Launcher  

Organizes your shortcuts and icons with categories on the desktop.


Our Rating: 
3.5
License: Free
Shortcuts management with categories organization.
Nil.
Read full review...

Fast Launcher  

A replacement for traditional Windows' Quick Launch panel and Start menu.


Our Rating: 
3.5
License: Free
Easy to use, with grouping, drag and drop, bundles, tray support, etc.
Nil.
Read full review...

Free Launch Bar  

A good replacement for the standard Quick Launch Bar, with added features such as grouping of shortcuts.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Limited features)
Replacement for the standard Quick Launch Bar; grouping of shortcuts.
Nil.
Read full review...

JetStart  

Offers you quick access to categorized Start Menu shortcuts, recently launched programs and system commands.


Our Rating: 
3.5
License: Free (Limited features)
Quick access to categorized shortcuts, recently launched programs and system commands.
Nil.
Read full review...

Other Software Suggestions

  • LaunchBar Commander - it's by the same author as FARR but takes a hybrid approach, between docks and menus, being able to do both with equal facility.

 

Best Free Program Launcher By Docks

Finally, the docks class. These tend to be graphically interesting, often featuring a configurable background shape on which appears icons for applications, documents, shortcuts or controls. They can usually be persuaded to stick themselves to a screen edge or some other location. They're often a bit like toolbars, but prettier. I have to admit I'm not an enthusiast of these type of launchers, so my tests may be limited by my lack of imagination or insight into their good points. Two specific programs of this type are worth a look.

Magic Formation  

A circular dock launcher appears anywhere you like on the desktop.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Appears anywhere you like on the desktop, just draw a circle by mouse.
No ability to distinguish between different pages of icons.
Read full review...

RocketDock  

An alpha-blended program launcher with good options for visual style, behaviour and docking position.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Nice clean interface, easy to drop shortcuts for easy access and organization, portable.
Nil.
Read full review...

Other Software Suggestions

 

Related Products and Links

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Editor

This category is maintained by volunteer editor oblivion. Registered members can contact the editor with any comments or suggestions they might have by clicking here.

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3.07143
Average: 3.1 (56 votes)

Comments

Launchy creates and -- presumably -- constantly maintains an index. Try, as a similar but non-indexing alternative, FindAndRunRobot. Although it doesn't use an index, its default settings -- basically, to look first in the places your program shortcuts are likely to be and work down a list (that you can, but don't have to, tweak to fit your own specific needs -- are very effective and usually as fast as you need. One small caveat: under some circumstances, Microsoft Security Essentials can cause FARR to run much more slowly than it otherwise would. I haven't seen any issues with other security software, though, and it is possible to persuade MSE to leave FARR alone.
LaunchQ (2/47 on Virus Total): Features: * Portable, free, light, open-source, runs in system tray and consumes minimal memory and mind. * One shortcut (Shift + Z) does it all . Press it to show/hide LaunchQ GUI. This shortcut is customizable. * Supports unlimited number of launch items. * Window Size, Background color, Text color and transparency can be changed a/c needs. * Auto-Scrolling - Move your mouse pointer above the LaunchQ window to scroll up, below the window to scroll down OR use Mouse wheel for scrolling. * Easy Add - Wanna add a file or folder to LaunchQ, drag it into the GUI, choose a name and you're done. * Easy Remove - Deleting a shortcut is even more easier. Hold a shortcut and drag it out of the the LaunchQ window. * Multi-Launch - Launch multiple shortcuts with a single-click. See Guide to know more. * Launch Web-sites too, just click on the bottom Add Web-Site button in the GUI and paste the link. * Shortcuts are auto-named intelligently. * It can start at system start up, check for updates and get path links from temporary (Desktop) shortcuts. http://avi-win-tips.blogspot.in/2013/05/launchq.html
I hope the shortcut isn't fixed to shift-Z -- or Zachary Zephaniah Zob might have trouble signing his letters. ;) (I note from the website that it's customisable but I couldn't resist...)

I've been using Quick Launch for years and am satisfied.

http://www.horstmuc.de/wqsel.htm

FSL Launcher is The BEST !!

FSL Launcher + dexpot + rocketdock = Perfect “OSX”.

Thanks! I found FSL Launcher at http://fsl.sytes.net/launcher.html It doesn't look like it's under active development: the forum looks pretty moribund. However, it's new to me and I'd be interested to know why you think it's better than the alternatives. Also, why is combining it with Rocketdock is better than just using Rocketdock? (Or, for that matter, what part of Rocketdock gives you facilities that FSL Launcher is missing?) Adding Dexpot is fair enough: I'm a big fan of virtual desktops myself (although I didn't get on with Dexpot and rather prefer Virtuawin: this is significantly offtopic, though :) )

Windows Start Menu, 8start, Free Launch Bar, ... ...
there exists a serious flaw: Screen utilization rate is LOW! and I think there will be some useless features.

I want to Launcher can be like in OS X that:
1. Activation (show) in Screen HotZone(corner of the screen).
2. Hotkey.
3. Easy to manage a large number of programs.
4. No keyboard operation.
5. Can take advantage of screen space.
6. Simple & easy used.

I found a list of launch programs (http://en.softonic.com/windows/program-launch-toolbars), many of them tried. I found that best meets my requirements is FSL Launcher (worked on Windows7 x64), although it has not been updated for a long time.

Dexpot = OSX Mission Control + Spaces
FSL Launcher = OSX Launchpad
Rocketdock = OSX "Dock"

Beware! Softonic uses a wrapped installer like cnet. http://www.thesafemac.com/tag/softonic/ http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/cnet-downloadcom-wrapped-install... Users are advised to source their downloads from clean sites such as Softpedia and MajorGeeks that do not resort to this underhand practice. MC - Site Manager.

Thank reminder! I did not actually download it from there, I get the software information from that site, such as website, then go to the official website to download. I hate them downloader.

Mm. Thanks for the find; looks interesting, although the impression the website gives is of a launcher that's more oriented towards children. The free version -- limited to 55 "slots" -- may be enough for many people but on first glance I'd struggle to justify choosing this over -- say -- Magic Formation. The installer is an MSI, which suggests a lack of portability too.
Concord Free Version: http://www.concordapp.com/
Thanks. The licensing looks like freeware unless you want extra features or program customisations; I'm trying to get some explicit clarification, though. It has a prerequisite of one of the .net frameworks, which I know can cause some people concerns, and I'm also trying to find out if there's a portable version available. I'll post more once I've found out some more. :)

Hi oblivion,
A year ago you wrote you were evaluating Executor (http://executor.dk/).
Why hasn't it made the list, so far?
I've been a long term user of SlickRun (and other key command based launchers), but some years ago I exchanged it for Executor and I'm still very happy with that decision.
It's certainly worth a spot in this list!

I second this motion. One of the greatest things about Executor is that it can be made truly portable from system to system.

Sure -- although several of the launchers featured here are also available in portable form. While I agree that Executor is a good example of its type, it doesn't seem to be under active development and I struggled to find anything on the website clarifying the license under which it's released. I will reinvestigate, however, since it seems to have at least a couple of enthusiastic users. :)

Just to expand a little more, Executor is portable in the sense that it automatically accepts a different drive letter on external hard drive, etc. As long as programs are stored on the same drive or have the same common location as in notepad, this feature works.

>> it doesn't seem to be under active development
You seem to be right.
However,
- SlickRun isn't under active development neither. Although it is in the list.
- that doesn't need to be a problem. I'm using it for 2 years now without any issues or extra requirement I'd have.

>> I struggled to find anything on the website clarifying the license under which it's released.
The site says:
Welcome to Executor. A multi purpose launcher and more advanced and customizable **freeware** windows run replacement and more..

Btw, I looked for an alternative for SlickRun because I had (hanging/delay) issues with it.

Rocketdock is great, but after I reformatted my PC, I felt too lazy to install it, Windows 7's superbar is great with jumplists similar to OSX's dock (although less customizable). For me the Windows 7 taskbar is more than enough, the higher your screen resolution is, the more that can fit on the taskbar.

If you don't want the customisation facilities that things like RocketDock provide, and your workflow doesn't need anything above and beyond the facilities offered by Windows itself, then of course you're not going to find a third-party launcher useful. RocketDock is a nice compromise between eye candy, customisability and functionality and we will continue to recommend it for people who need what it offers! Your point, though, is well made: none of these things are more than a shortcut to things Windows can already do without their help. (But if it's okay with you, I LIKE being able to customise my systems in this way, and I usually feel slightly hamstrung if I have to work with a system without the enhancements I routinely use -- which is one of the reasons I tend to prefer the portable options here!)

I have to agree with those points. Rocketdock is indeed the greatest, as I've seen it featured in almost all Windows - Mac transformation packs/tutorials.
Also one unique feature is that I can pin specific files to Rocketdock while the Windows 7 taskbar can't!
Although, I may decide to install Rocketdock later, if I feel that I want something cool for my desktop.
One question, are any of these still in development? Rocketdock I think has no updates for several years and it kinds of becoming outdated.

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