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.

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...

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...

Other Software Suggestions

 

Related Products and Links

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Editor

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Comments

Runit - portable Windows launcher for apps, files, directories and stored web sites: https://github.com/gspansky/runit

how about WinLaunch?

http://winlaunch.org/

@Oblivion
Keypirinha is now available on both 32-bit and 64-bit platforms.
Time to give it a second chance/look and give it a place in this list. It definitely deserves it.

Remark: Is it intentionally that 5 programs get the "Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!"?

Other software suggestions:

  • Fences

Is no longer free

  • XWindows Dock

Link does not work

Thank you for pointing this out. These items have now been corrected. MC - Site Manager.

I have two machines, a laptop and a desktop, both with Win 7. Launchy 2.5 works fine on my laptop, but not on my desktop. I was able to download the 2.1.2 version, and it works fine.

Cerebro - another cross-platform extendable open-source launcher: https://betapage.co/product/cerebro

Actually, the best solution I've found is already built into Windows. You can very easily create your own new menu with sub-menus on the right side of the task bar.

a) Create a folder anywhere on your system
b) Copy shortcut files into it. You can have sub-folders with shortcuts too.
c) Right-click on the task bar > Toolbars > New Toolbar... It asks for a folder, give it the folder you've created.

Now you have a new menu on the right side of the task bar. The name of the menu is the same as the folder name, and sub-folders are shown as sub-menus. You can create any hierarchy you like of links and sub-menus, and reorder them by dragging.

Simple and effective. I've been using this for years and it works well for me.

You can also, of course, reorganise the programs area of the Start Menu using similar techniques.

Where launchers come into their own is where they provide extra functionality (or chrome!) and/or make (re)organisation of your shortcuts either easier or unnecessary.

There are almost always alternatives to the features Microsoft provide, but if you can meet your own needs without exploring different solutions, nobody's going to force you to do anything different!

I've tried various launchers over the years - I even wrote my own launcher about 20 years ago, which optionally moved recently used files and apps to the top - but they do nothing for me.

Creating a custom Windows taskbar menu is far better than the Start menu, because you can put exactly what you want, where you want, with no fuss, and you don't get assorted junk appearing. Windows leaves it alone.

Combine this with the Everything Search Engine, and you don't need the Start menu at all. In fact, I rarely ever use the Start menu on my development machine.

Since I use portable apps as much as possible, and I keep my custom menu folder in the same location as my portable apps, my menu is also portable.

"... Zazu App - fully extensible and open source launcher for hackers, creators and dabblers ...":

http://zazuapp.org/

Mm. Looks a tiny bit complex for normal users but also looks like one to watch, particularly for more advanced users. Thanks!

Apparently the home page of Enso (http://www.humanized.com/enso/launcher/) doesn't exist anymore.
Even http://www.humanized.com seems to be "gone"...

Yal - yet another launcher:

https://github.com/boobcoder/Yal

Recently I've been using a launcher app I found... Quick Access Popup. http://www.quickaccesspopup.com/ which uses the Start-W combination to pop up a menu you build. It's pretty feature rich and freeware. It does pop up a "support freeware" reminder on occasion with many options to show your support. Surprisingly it's written an "AHK" - Any Hot Key scripting language! I recommend it.

I like QAP. It looks very similar than the app I use for years now, Quick Cliq. I will use them now side by side to make a comparison.
I prefer the mouse-shortcut of Quick Cliq (right click + move down) because with QAP I had to put Chrome in the exlusion window because I use the wheel click all the time to open a link in another tab. So far I don't see many differences but I will try QAP for a while §to find out. Thanks for mentioning it.

I browsed the Quick Cliq web site and liked what I saw. I then browsed my PC and found I had tried it in 2014. This was my comments to myself -
DO_NOT_USE
This takes over too many HotKeys
INCLUDING
Ctrl Space (hides windows) and stuffs intellisense in VB6 IDE

If you find that QAP is similar (has all the features of Quick Cliq) AND DOES NOT HIJACK ALL THE HOTKEYS
I would appreciate your feedback

I tried both Quick Cliq and QAP a few days now and I must say they are very simular.
I use Quick Cliq a few years now and I come to the conclusion QAP doesn't add anything for me (it's not less either) so i will keep using it.
I don't have any problem with his use of the hotkeys (I'm a mouseman myself and make little use of them) but i know that you can alter them in the settings. You can even disable them so this is no issue for me.

In QAP I had to exclude Chrome (like I commented before) so I couldn't use his clipping feature in Chrome like I can with Quick Cliq. I prefer the look and feel of QC too. I builded the same menu in QAP that I have in QC but the shown menu looks so big (almost the entire height of my window)

Conclusion: i keep using QS but QAP is a very good replacement

Here's my Quick Access Popup menu as it appears on my 15" Dell Laptop screen under Windows 10 (Anniversary Update) - https://goo.gl/photos/aiJJaUVtHLUCbTCv9

I'd say it's a pretty extensive menu that only takes up about 3/4 of the height of the screen.

- Bob

I see what you mean but I compare it with Quick Cliq and for me it looks big. In this screenshot you can see the difference on my screen. Left is QC and at the right is the menu of QAP. https://gmkr.io/s/57ff1ce8f7bcdf6879f93904/0
Do you see what I mean?

Thanks for sharing Rydeck. Personally I've been using Portable Start Menu for some years and like it a lot. Adding shortcuts to the menu is simple with drag & drop. http://www.aignes.com/psmenu.htm

I use SE-TrayMenu (install or portable).
http://www.softpedia.com/get/System/Launchers-Shutdown-Tools/SE-TrayMenu...
Not much info on the developers site unless I'm missing it but it doesn't appear to be Win '10 supported although that doesn't mean it won't run. I don't use Windows 10 so this screenshot is from my VBox Windows 7 system on Linux. Different appearance settings are included and you can have a more narrow display if preferred by shortening the launcher text entries. MC - Site Manager.
http://i.imgur.com/5SPtYP7.png

Can SE-TrayMenu have sub folders like BobTSS ?

In addition to files and applications you can add folders and sub folders, but only individually. MC - Site Manager.

You have encouraged me to give QC another try.
I have switched off Hot Keys, and hopefully Clipboard monitoring, as they are the areas that I think messed with my VB6 IDE(VB6's program coder/editor), and will see how it goes.

Did you hear about the guy who jumped off the Empire State Building ?
It was back in the days before air conditioning, and most of the floors had their windows open.
As he (the jumper) passed the open windows, the office workers could hear him say, what I am saying -
"So far so good"

XP users (hello compatriots), will have to use the previous program 'Folders Popup'
If it is mainly folders accessing, I may give it a miss

Rob

Quick Access Popup is a folder switching app in the first place. That can also launch apps.

Listary (embeds folder search into file dialogs, great product but not mentioned here as it isn't primarily a launcher) has now added launch capabilities.

(Effectively, you can invoke it like you would something like Launchy to get a dialog onscreen -- Listary uses two taps of the ctrl key by default) type part of the program name (or a previously defined alias) and you're there. Much like FARR, in fact.

And it's still compatible with XP.

You might find that worth a look.

 

Hain - an 'alt+space' launcher for Windows, built with Electron: https://github.com/appetizermonster/hain
Keypirinha is a semantic launcher for keyboard ninjas: http://keypirinha.com

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