Scott Hanselman

Another Way to Replace Start Run - Enso Launcher

January 26, 2007 Comment on this post [12] Posted in Reviews | Tools
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Stephen Nelson turned me on to Humanized Software's "Enso Launcher" (blog) earlier today, and I've been playing with it all evening. I've been on a quest to replace Start|Run for years (podcast). I've also done a lot of work in UI and UX and these guys are definitely fans of Jef Raskin's Humane Interface for good reason. Not just because Jef was brilliant - but also because they worked directly with him. The Enso Launcher is dedicated to Jef.

As I write this I notice that Enso was written up in the WSJ by Walt Mosberg today. Good PR team.

These guys have two products so far, one, a universal spell-checker called Enso Words with a very clever overlay interface. Right now I use an autocorrecter called Universal Autocorrect. Personally I think that US$40 is twice as expensive as it warrants.

However, the really interesting application in their Enso Launcher, which is oddly more useful, but reasonably priced at US$24.95. It's not quite as fast and intuitive as the Holy Grail - QuickSilver for Windows, but it's absolutely clever enough for you to download and try out.

There's a number of folks who are fervently against the Caps Lock key. Rather than suggesting that we rip the key off our keyboards, Enso Launcher uses it as its one-and-only hotkey.

Good Stuff

  • You hold down Caps Lock, an overlay appears, you start typing, then release Caps Lock. Sounds god when you type it, but in practice, it's kind of a tricky maneuver. For example, hold Caps Lock with your pinky, Type "gog", then without letting go of Caps Lock, press Tab with whatever free finger you have, mine is the left ring finger, then type the search term you want, then let go of Caps Locks. It's a bit of a dance. I'd prefer NOT to have to hold Caps Lock, or be able to configure the "start" and "end" events, like "Ctrl-Space" to start and "Enter" to end the command.
    • There is an alternative "lock-on"command, but it's (to me) very hard to to fast. "You can press down Caps Lock, then press down Alt, then release Caps Lock, then release Alt."
  • The calculate() command. If you have some text like 2+2 in a text box, just select it and do Caps Lock, "calc", release, and the text in the textbox will be replaced with the answer. If there's an = at the end, the answer appears at the end.
  • The "go" command switches between running applications, but also within Tabs in FireFox and/or IE. So, I can type "go", Tab, "Han" and if I have my blog open in a tab, Enso will switch me there.

Bad Stuff

  • So far, I'm just not as fast with this as I am with SlickRun. Mostly because of the machinations of the left hand.
    • It really needs a "start" type "stop" command...holding down Caps Lock thing is, in itself, an implied Mode, and having to hold it down makes this tool that much harder to "sell" to my Wife and/or Parents.
  • No plugin model that I can see.
  • Runs pokey on my 3Ghz P4. Might be my crap video card.

I'd say that it's pretty darn impressive for a first product, and a 1.0 at that. One caveat, it doesn't officially support Vista (yet), but it works pretty well on my Vista machine with UAC turned of. Go get it, I suspect it's going places. It's this kind of out of the box UX thinking that I expected from Windows Vista.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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January 26, 2007 10:55
> The calculate() command. If you have some text like 2+2 in a text box, just select it and do Caps Lock, "calc",
> release, and the text in the textbox will be replaced with the answer. If there's an = at the end, the answer appears
> at the end.

ctrl-k 2+2
from within firefox. It doesn't insert the answer into another app though. I'm sure you knew that.
January 26, 2007 16:56
You might want to ook at Launchy again. He released a new version this week with plugin support. Now it not only indexes the start menu and other foders, it indexes your firefox bookmarks, allows tab-competion wntry of filesystem paths, and does calculations. It was re-written for performance and is very snappy on my laptop. And it's free and open-source.
January 26, 2007 20:22
I dunno. I am still addicted to SlickRun for doing pretty much everything. I like how I just do CTRL+R and I am off to the tracks. I am addicted probably because of all the customization I did on hotkeys and such.
January 26, 2007 21:09
I had the same impression - it's beautiful, but hard to work with. Holding down CAPS while typing is ridiculous. Also, I don't believe that it scans through programs and stuff, so it's less useful than launchers like Colibri, Launchy, etc. unless you manually add all your shortcuts.

Another launcher to keep up with - slimKEYS, which just went 1.0 yesterday. It's got an interesting pricing structure: name your price.
January 27, 2007 0:01

Might want to give Colibri a try. Basically works the same except uses Ctrl-Spacebar combo. You can also tweak where you want it to search for launchable apps. I generally leave at default which captures most everything.

Interface is clean and easy and uses both icon and text to identify the app / function.

Oh and its free. Its kinda reminiscent of Quicksilver
January 27, 2007 13:02
Why give up SlickRun? It rocks! I've mapped it to the button below the spacebar on my Microsoft Ergonomic 4000 keyboard.

And to get incremental window-title searching, you can use iswitchw.
January 29, 2007 9:11
I really like the look of Enzo, and I want to love the program because it seems a lot of hard work and thought has gone into it, but the process of holding down caps lock is painful. Additionally, having to type "open" before the program's name is needlessly complex. Launchy is far superior from a speed and "pinky" pain standpoint.

The avoidance of modes and the use of the caps lock quasimode here only slow the program down. I don't mind the use of a mode for launchy since it's only on the screen for about three seconds at a time. I already asked them for a better override than the awkward caps-alt-caps-alt combination they've come up with. I also asked if they'd create a method to have "open" be the default command. We'll see how they respond. Once launched it runs pretty well on my 2.4GHZ P4 machine with Vista. I have UAC on still as well.
January 30, 2007 1:52
I know you hate the caps lock key, I do too, but there's a program called Ctrl2Cap that's made by sysinternals (now MS) that turns the capslock key into a left ctrl key. I've been using it for a week now and I don't know how I ever did without it. try it here:
January 30, 2007 18:47
Interesting interface and ideas. Odd that there are no user-defined commands in this version. Without those, EnsoLauncher requires more keystrokes than SlickEdit.

I appreciate the "verb + object" grammar of the existing commands, but right now the only verbs I ever use are "open" and "go". I imagine grammar is more like Quicksilver than anything else, but I wonder whether Quicksilver has any "must have" verbs left out of this version of EnsoLauncher. I'm not a Mac User, so I have no clue, but what are the killer features of Quicksilver that ought to be top priorities for v1 of any taskbar replacer?
January 30, 2007 18:48
Ooops, not taskbar replacer. I meant Start Run.
January 31, 2007 19:55
When are you people going to learn to use the BUILT IN features of the Windows Operating system.

Yeah, the %PATH% variable is great, if you like launching things from the command line (which is still a great way to compile code, etc...)

Get rid of your quick launch bar, custom software, and others NOW.

There's a magical place most people are unaware of. It's called . (thats dot) Yes, the magical world of '.'

Try it, [start key]+[R], ., [Enter]

. = %USERPROFILE% (as in, the environment variable, but only as far as the Run dialog box is concerned)

try dropping a shortcut to a commonly used exe, bat|cmd, vbs, or event a lnk file here. Rename it to something insanely short.

a shortcut to %windir%\notepad.exe becomes simply n.lnk.

start key + R, n, Enter -> instant notepad

a shortcut to "%ProgramFiles%\internet explorer\iexplore.exe" becomes gm.lnk

start key + R, gm, Enter -> instant gmail

Try keeping the '.' window open, and right-button-dragging an icon from the windows start menu onto this window. Release the right-button and choose create shortcut here from the context menu. Rename to something appropriately short.

Visual Studio 2005 becomes simply "vs"

This works on ALL flavors of windows. No software to install. Makes you look like a rockstar.
February 22, 2007 9:53
You can check Magicwords. It's is open source alternative to SlickRun. On my opinion it has very clear GUI.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.