Running Windows Programs From the Keyboard

At heart I’m a keyboard junkie. From Interactive Fiction to command shells with emacs keybindings to the old Wordstar navigation key commands, I’m best when I’m on the keyboard and not shuttling back and forth to the mouse. In Firefox I use search strings that I can type into the URL bar. One quick ctrl-L, followed by “dict “, looks up that word in an online dictionary. That’s why I’ve looked longingly at Quicksilver, a Mac program for opening files and folders via keyboard. The Windows start menu takes a while to navigate, especially when I have to switch from keyboard to mouse to open a program. For whatever reason, I never thought to look for Quicksilver-like programs for Windows. I made do with Google Desktop: type ctrl twice to bring up the search box and start typing the application name, and often you’ll get the executable or the link in the start menu. It’s not perfect, though, since the results list is chockablock with plenty of other files.

It turns out there are several Quicksilver-like Windows apps. Launchy is an open-source program with the expected sketchy documentation, and Enso Launcher is a $20 shareware application launcher and window navigation tool. Neither of these do everything Quicksilver can do, but they do let you launch programs quickly from the keyboard.

I just got a new work laptop that has Vista on it. I was grumbling about the new Vista start menu, which got rid of the cascading menu that fills the screen in favor of a slowly-scrolling fixed-size list, and was about to switch it back to the XP/2000 version, when I saw something: a search box at the bottom.

A search box at the bottom that automatically had the focus when I opened the start menu, and that puts programs and folders in the start menu at the top of the result list.

That’s right, I now have a keyboard-based launcher. Hit the windows button, type in the first part of a program’s name, and hit enter. It’s not as pretty as Enso Launcher, but it’s built in and takes no more system memory. It’s not Quicksilver, but it’ll do nicely, and it’s a killer feature I hadn’t seen much discussion of.

[tags]windows, keyboard launchers, enso launcher, launchy, quicksilver, vista, start menu, the good is the enemy of the downloading new shareware apps[/tags]

5 thoughts on “Running Windows Programs From the Keyboard

  1. Hm. I’m going to have to take a look at Launchy for my Vista laptop. I really hate the new ‘start’ menu as well. I’ve been using computers since before there were GUIs and mice… and that’s the one thing I criticized the original Mac about. In all the ads, they never showed a keyboard. I thought it didn’t come with one.

  2. I went to a software conference a while ago where a guy named Neal Ford talked about a whole boatload of this kind of stuff. He’s writing a book called “The Productive Programmer” that examines ways to help people better use their time — like keeping away from the mouse.

    Conference slides are here and here, if you’re interested.

  3. Ctrl+L — I never knew! My first computing experiences were under MS-DOS… as others have written, I’ve always been a keyboard junkie. The mouse — and, when undocked, trackpad on this laptop — is so slow by comparison! :-Þ

    I’ll look into Launchy… thanks for raising the topic. 🙂

  4. My evolution in using Firefox went something like this:

    “Hey, this search box on the left is great! And I can add new search engines besides Google!”

    “Huh, I can push Ctrl-L to get to the URL bar, and Ctrl-K to get to the search bar. Now I don’t have to leave the keyboard. But using Ctrl-Up/Down arrows to page through the search engines is slow.”

    “Whoa, if I use Smart Keywords I can set up bookmarked searches so that I can type “wp” to search Wikipedia or “imdb” to search IMDB. I’m set!”

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