Best Free Program Launcher



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:



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

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

Find And Run Robot  

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

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

Best Free Program Launcher By Keyword Command


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

Our Rating: 
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


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

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

Fast Launcher  

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

Our Rating: 
License: Free
Easy to use, with grouping, drag and drop, bundles, tray support, etc.
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: 
License: Free (Limited features)
Replacement for the standard Quick Launch Bar; grouping of shortcuts.
Read full review...


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

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


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

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

Magic Formation  

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

Our Rating: 
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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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


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:
Keypirinha is a semantic launcher for keyboard ninjas:

I'm always in search of the ultimate keyboard launcher. I already used Launchy (which never pleased me) and SlickRun (which was good, but the development stagnates). Currently I was using both Executor and FARR (both products that suited me well), but since two weeks I'm trying out Keypirinha and I fell in love with it very quickly and now installed it on all my machines.
It works "out of the box" very well.
And the developer is answering questions very quickly.
Eg. I want to use my own 'words' to launch programs (eg. typing "mail" for launching MS Outlook). Keypirinha isn't designed with that in mind, but I learned from the developer that creating shortcut links with the name I want, is a good working solution.
Currently, I'm in love with Keypirinha. (Beautiful name also ;-) It definitely deserves to be in this list.

Interesting -- looks like it might be a useful program. A couple of concerns, though -- it doesn't make any explicit statements about licensing, it's clearly a beta product right now, and it's 64-bit only. Given the possibility of extensions via the user's Python skills (!) it may be a little "power users" oriented. I'm still not completely sure I understand what the phrase "semantic launcher" means, though :)

>> A couple of concerns, though --
>> it doesn't make any explicit statements about licensing
The website says: Freeware, no nag screen, no time limit, no ads

>> it's clearly a beta product right now
Is it still, you think?

>> it's 64-bit only
Correct. But what's the problem with that?
I would expect that the majority of users works on a 64 bit machine by now. Am I wrong?
Maybe Gizmo's freeware should organize a poll to quantify the number of 32bit users versus the number of 64bit users...

your link doesn't wox
Try this one instead -

PS My ideal launcher would be an icon in the SysTray.
When one mouses over it, a menu rises.
You can move the mouse up to an item or a 'folder'
Hovering can show a sub menu with some clickable shortcuts, or more sub menus

Dang now that's bril. Why has no menu/launcher come up with that by now. Have to look thru remaining chats here. Like the idea of using double click of ctrl key as a default to a launcher. But lot of prgs demand ctrl + a key or two, not 2x of a key.

The getwox link -- thanks for pointing out the fix for that. The product itself looks very much like FindAndRunRobot, which remains my preferred choice of keyboard launcher. Another DonationCoder product -- LaunchBarCommander -- might be worth a look. It can be configured to be a menu system driven from an icon in the notification area (as well as a number of other modes of operation) and has the advantage of portability (you can specify the current drive via an alias.) The hovering / clickless form isn't an option currently, I don't think, but the developer is always open to suggestions!

It needs a click to rise, but I could live with using a hot key.
I don't think that it has the ability to have parent menu entries that expand (via mouse hover) to sub menus.
I would need that to categorize the entries, and make it manageable (and usable when you have a missing memory at 74)


This is the best dock for me. sTabLauncher. I definitely prefer it to rocket dock. It is a tabbed dock, so you have a different dock under each Tab.. It can be at bottom or top of screen. It can be used to launch programs or files. Example I have an office tab for my word processing, spreadsheet word web etc. As for file launching I have an accounts tab. Each icon on there is a direct link to a specific spreadsheet of an annual accounts, I have a media tab, computer tab with short cuts to drives, cleaning programs etc. If you are looking for a dock or you are not happy with you have, go have a look. I have been using it since W7 it works on W10 so I guess it will work on W8. It is completely free. I have never seen any upgrades to it, so have no idea if it is still supported. but when something really works well, why change it. You will find it here.

To paraphrase an old saw, I don't know much about computers, but I know what I like. And I like Keybreeze. I tried several of the programs mentioned in both the reviews and the comments. However, several years ago I came across Keybreeze, and it clicked with me. I have no way of knowing whether "power users" would find it adequate. But it suits my needs - and computer skill level - very well. It leaves my hands on the keyboard, and I like that, because I'm an old-timer from long before the mouse became king. Hit a hot-key (a semicolon is the default, but it's customizable) and a dialogue box pops up. Type your command and you're off to the races. It has built-in letter commands which I find useful: type "w" and a variable - say, John Wayne - and in a flash, you're reading about the Duke on Wikipedia. A "d" and a variable takes you to the appropriate page on A "yt" and you're at youtube--you get the idea. And you can add your own letter commands. Well, I don't mean to ramble on endlessly, but if you're in the market for a launching app, you might give Keybreeze a shot. It's at - go figure.

FYI the link to Enso's website is dead. I believe this program is also no longer in active development, but I did find this:

Quick Launch - Qsel has worked well for me for a number of years.

I feel that I have lost the battle.
I loved the XP classic Start Menu, particularly once one learned how to create your own high level (Main list on the left) categories.
I dislike fancy graphics and Icons, and other 'candy'
I will concede that some of the population are the opposite of me, but then MS decided to make you all the opposite of me -
- They banned the XP Classic Start Menu style in Win7 and Win8
- They foisted the 'hunt and peck' 'Lucky Dip' start menu on to us
And it appears that the majority of the applications that are discussed here, fall into that category.
Surely ('Airplane'), there are some of us left out there, that prefer to organize our shortcuts into predefined categories, and then be able to easily/quickly locate and launch any of them ?
Ideally such a program would have an icon in the Sys Tray (now called Notification Area by MS), that with a single left click, will raise a menu, with sub menus appearing as you move your mouse. A single click will launch whatever, and the menu will disappear.
Is there anyone left out there that likes to live in an organized way ?
I will continue my search for such a program, and will report back, if anyone expresses an interest.

I think, given your expressed needs, you should have a serious look at a stablemate of FindAndRunRobot's called Launchbar Commander. I haven't included it in the main list of recommended programs primarily because it takes work -- much of the type you profess to prefer! -- to get it set up properly. It can do one or more floating or docked docks, popup menus, autohidden menus, and it can be as stark as you want it to be. I use it myself -- as a launcher for the apps on my portable HD. Find it at: DonationCoder -- a site I am a big fan of -- makes their applications and utilities available for free or for an optional donation. You DO have to register, but nobody's going to make you hand over money. And there's an extremely active forum where you can find help on any of their products.

Thanks guys for responding.
I had tried that program in the past, and had left warning notes for myself that it took over too many Hot Keys, including those that I need in the VB6 IDE (development environment)
I just tried the latest version, and there is an option to turn off Hot Keys. That appears to have solved my earlier problems.

I will now attempt to learn how to use it fully.

Thanks again,

Indeed, Quick Cliq is just one such free program - there are plenty of decent freeware options for such a function.

Alternatively ClassicShell allows you to organise the native Start Menu however you like as well as restoring the old XP look if you wish.

I might be wrong but doesn't 'Quick Cliq' just do that?
i use my mouse to call the menus (with submenus) and just click om the desired link.

Keep an eye out for Listary (

The latest beta now incorprates an application launcher (along the same lines as Launchy) but because Listary scans MFTs and is a search-as-you-type engine, it's very quick about it.

The launcher component in the beta is not excellently implemented yet but I'm expecting good things when it has been refined for the next stable release.

Similarly, another MFT scanning search-as-you-type engine, Everything (, now has a dropdown menu to filter results by filetype which makes it a viable option for application launching. E.g. type "iced" ... select "exe" in the filter to launch IceDragon. Or vice versa - leave the filter set to "exe" and just use it as a program finder and launcher. Very usable anyway if you have a large collection of software.

Note that MFT scanners only work on NTFS drives and require UAC permissions.

Lastly Win+R Alias Manager from WinAero ( is pretty neat although you have to add your own shortcuts.

The advantage with this one is that it uses the search box in Windows Start Menu and the existing Windows capability for exec aliases, so there's no extra autorun. For instance I might set "id" as my alias for IceDragon and then to run it just key WIN+R for the search box then type "id". Very nice program but time consuming to set up if you have a lot of software. I use it just to set aliases for programs that I use very frequently.

Thanks! I like (and use!) Listary a lot, so I'll be interested to see how that develops. I used Everything until Listary incorporated similar functionality; because of the requirement for admin privileges, making Everything run reliably at startup is a little too complicated for many users, I think, but Listary seems to have the startup issue cracked. As far as aliases are concerned, I use FARR's capabilities in that regard -- particularly helpful is its ability to assign multiple targets to a single alias, so -- for instance -- I have an "edit" alias that points to two different plaintext editors and a couple of richtext editors, and FARR just produces a list of the targets so I can pick the one I want. More useful (to me) than a straight one-to-one relationship... :)

RocketDock is still not available for 64-bit operating systems. That should probably be mentioned under system requirements.

I have used and still use RocketDock daily without any problem on my laptop with operating system "Windows VISTA Home Premium x64".
Similarly and SIMULTANEOSLY job - successfully - the dock called sTabLauncher, in this 64-bit system.


Caution! sTabLauncher is bundled with unwanted components. MC - Site Manager.

It's true RocketDock's documentation says it does not support 64-bit, however, I've used it successfully on W7x64. What's more, you can make it portable by following the instructions here: