An application launcher is a little piece of utility software that runs in the back ground of the OS and waits for a key combination to be pressed. Once you hit that combination (say alt + space), a little window pops up that allows you to start typing. You can then type the first few letters of the app you want to launch, and then hit enter and the app will pop up. This allows you to launch apps without taking your hand off the keyboard. For people like me (who live and die by shortcuts), this is the promised land. Many of these app launchers can be configured to open folders, search the hard drive, and many more tasks with endless plug-ins.
There are a number of apps that do this, as listed on Wikipedia, but I'll talk about the three that I've used/use on a daily basis. First there's Launchy. Launchy is a free (as is freedom), utility that runs on both Windows and Linux and has plug-in support as well as configurable key combos. I use this everyday at work and have very few problems with it. The app will "learn" your favorites as you pic them out of a list, so you won't need to pick them the second time around. Some plug-ins you may be interested in are: putty integration, weby, and one I've recently started using, Google calc. From my experience, this app works as well on Linux (Ubuntu) as it does on Windows.
Next up is Quicksilver for Mac OS X. This is the best application launcher around in my opinion. It is very polished and not only searches, and launches well, but has all the visual crack you need and love on OS X. Quicksilver also supports plug-ins, and has many configurable preferences; not to mention you can tweak the look and feel.
Lastly, we have a Linux (KDE) only option known as Katapult. This is my least favorite option out of the bunch. And being a Linux hippy, I hate to admit that there is a Mac option that I like better. It works well enough, but it doesn't learn my preferences, which kind of gets annoying. It is skinable and about the same configuration options as Launchy.
Anyway, once you start using one of these fabulous applications, you'll find it painful to go back. I have one of these installed on every box that I use regularly, and I find that I can work much more efficiently.
- - Rob
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