Scott Hanselman

Replacing Start Run - The Quest Continues

August 04, 2006 Comment on this post [21] Posted in Reviews | Tools
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So many ways to launch programs. A good launcher doesn't just launch, it also auto-completes paths for you, starts your search engine or browser and generally saves you 15 minutes a day. No need to learn all the hotkeys like those Keyboard wonks who try to guilt you. Just learn ONE and make it do everything.

Given these offerings, if you open your Start Menu at all, at any point in the day, you're doing something wrong. Try them all, pick one, and save 15 min * 5 days * 52 weeks = 65 hours a year you'd have spent futzing around in your Start Menu*.

* These numbers came straight out of my butt.

  • Slickrun - still the sexy favorite, this little floating magic bar keeps me moving fast, launching programs, macros and explorer with it's shiny simplicity.
    Tell them I sent you. ;)


  • SmartStartMenu - Shaun Harrington has created this elegant little application that lives in the task bar and automatically indexes the list of items in your Start Menu for quick access with the speed of AutoComplete.
    It will take system commands, paths to launch explorer, even UNC paths. Launch anything on your system with less than 4 keystrokes. It also adds new context menus to Explorer like CopyPath and Open in DOS box to Explorer.


  • Startrun2Martin Plante, hot off his gig at Xceed has created slimKEYS, a "universal hotkey manager" with a simple .NET plugin architecture. If you've got ideas or thoughts, visit the slimCODE Forums.
    Have you ever wanted to bind something to Shift-Ctrl-Alt-Window-Q but didn't know how to grab a global hotkey?
    This will launch programs, watch folders, and find files. It has great potential as more and more plugins appear.
    The current version already comes with the following built-in plug-ins:
    • slimSIZE: Change the current window's position, size or monitor location to any area of your choice.
    • slimLAUNCH: Open applications, documents or folders by typing a few letters from their name. 
    • slimVOLUME: Display the volume level when you use your keyboard's volume control.


  • Colibri - The closest thing so far, IMHO, to Quicksilver on Windows, although this little gem has a slow startup time, it runs fast! It's being actively developed and promises integration with a dozen third party programs. It also formally supports "Portable Mode" for those of you who like to carry your apps around on a USB key.


  • Launchy - Another do it all application, this one Open Source and written entirely in .NET, Launchy binds to Alt-Space by default. This app also has the potential to be Quicksilver like if it start including support for stringing together verb-noun combos. It's pretty as hell and totally skinnable (there's TWO Quicksilver skins included!)


  • AppRocket -this little bar sits at the top of your screen, popping down an active list of Bookmarks, Programs, Music, Web Queries and more.  It's unclear if this tool is being enhanced for future versions as folks have reported not hearing from the company in a while.


  • ActiveWords - Arguably the most minimal of these launchers (as it can have no UI at all if you like!), but the most configurable. ActiveWords watches everything you type, in every application, so anything you've just typed could potentially be used by you to launch a program, a macro, send email, or give you Auto-Correct in any application. Check out their screencast/demos and their scripting language. It also is the only launcher (I've seen) with explicit support for the Tablet PC and allows ink to trigger an "Active Word."


  • Dave's Quick Search Bar - Written orignally in JavaScript and now written in magic and ensconced in voodoo, this little Toolbar sits in your Windows Task bar (or wherever you choose to drag it) and supports a huge community of macro writers who've enabled it as a Calculator, Web Searcher, People Finder, Currency Converter and literally hundreds of other tasks via simple to write plugins. Very actively developed and on the web for over 5 years (that's like 100 people years).Startrun8
    It even has a Search Wizard to create your own web searches by example.

UPDATE: I forgot a few that were totally worth mentioning. My bad.

  • Google Desktop - Startrun10Google Desktop has an option that let's you use it as a quick program launcher along with fantastic search abilities by tapping Ctrl-Ctrl.


  • Find and Run Robot - Lightweight, small, quiet until you need it. This little application allows for tuneable heuristics to make it work like you think. Demo Screencast here.

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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August 04, 2006 9:55
SlickRun is the way to go!!! :) I use it all the time after seeing you use at a talk here in Vancouver and have spread the word among other folks who still use the Start Menu.
August 04, 2006 9:56
Hi Scott

A little typo...

I'm sure the words * These numbers came straight out of my butt.
go well with an 'f' missing from Shift (slimKeys)!!!

Mitch Wheat
August 04, 2006 10:08
Mitch - it's actually slimKeys according to his website.
August 04, 2006 11:20

to add one more suggestion: have you tried TypeAndRun? It's popular in the TotalCommander community.
For what i read the functionality looks somewhat like Slickrun.
The page of this guy is under construction but the latest beta is downloadable:
August 04, 2006 11:32
Funny timing. I've been seriously considering starting an open source launcher app in C#. I've been using Colibri a lot lately and I love it enough to want a launcher that's bigger than some guy's hobby. I want the source - heck, I'd love to contribute to a program I use every day, or at least the ability to add features I'd like.

I looked at Launchy, but it's in C++. I looked it up; apparently that's a programming language that was popular when Gorbachev was a big deal. No way I'm gonna deal with the likes of "CLaunchyDlg* pDlg = (CLaunchyDlg*) AfxGetMainWnd();" on my off hours. Plus it's GPL... um, not that there's anything wrong with that...

Sheesh, is anyone gonna start up an Open Source C# Launcher project? Should I? It's just a bunch of gradients and wrappers for ShellExecuteEx, right? ;-)
August 04, 2006 12:17
I do have to agree that Slickrun is the way to go. I have set up just about every application that I use, Web Site I visit, and everything else you can think of in Slickrun. I love how easy it makes bouncing since it seems I can never stay focused on just on task at a time.
August 04, 2006 13:04
Oh, and what got me thinking about writing a new launcher was the Hanselminutes where you discussed using PowerShell as a scripting language. I've heard that the really cool feature of Quicksilver is the Commands. How cool would it be if you had a launcher that could be scripted with PowerShell? The base install would give you a launcher, but you could download aditional MSH scripts to give you new actions.
August 04, 2006 14:12
Scott - thanks for the run down. I'm looking for a launcher that will provide decent support for running apps under a different account (ie. local admin). I've tried - and resoundingly failed - to run in least-privilege, simply because I got so sick of doing right-click 'run as...' and entering the new credentials ten times a day.

I've looked at other solutions like 'nonadmin' ( but frankly, I'm lazy. It looks like I'd need to invest time in it to get things working well. And besides, it's all a bit belt-and-braces batch filey.

Surely there's a launcher out there that will let me launch programs as a different user (very easily) and even remember the creds for the next time I run it? I'd even dust off my wallet and pay for such a thing! Anyone??
August 04, 2006 15:12
Oddly enough, I'm writing one of these tools at the moment. It's not finished, because I'm still thinking of things to add to it and what things I need from it.
One of the things that I was thinking of adding was a "Run As..." command that works in much the same way as AndyToo is asking for.
It is Open Source (MPL license) and written in VB.NET
August 04, 2006 15:51
Find+Run Robot:
donationware/freeware, and extremely customizable:
August 05, 2006 5:15
I am still a big fan of RunFast:
August 05, 2006 6:53
It seems you forgot or purposely left out the google desktop search ctrl-ctrl feature. I've been using that and appreciating the time savings it provides and the fact that I have one less thing loaded up since I use desktop search anyway. I think I first heard you mention it on Hanselminutes, but I'm not sure though.

Is it problematic or did you just forget/decide not to list it?
August 05, 2006 7:01
Crap, I meant to, but I forgot. I'll update the post.
August 05, 2006 11:07
Another vote for Google Desktop as an application launcher from me. Set it to show apps first and you're set to go. The only thing missing is assigning hotkeys to launch apps. WinKey is perfect for that.
August 06, 2006 5:48
Scott - If you need another one for your list you can checkout Run++ ( I just finished a new release. It is written in C# and I just updated it to be deployed/updated using ClickOnce (

AndyToo - Run++ supports running applications with different user credentials. In fact I've been running as non-admin for a while and it has been a life saver for me. It also acts as a Hotkey manager; it will allow you to assign hotkeys to any of your custom commands.

Jon Galloway - I've been toying with the idea of making Run++ a mini-shell of sorts that will allow you to run Powershell commands and as another benefit you would be able to run your custom commands from a standard Powershell console. I just haven't had enough time to work out any details. I have also been toying with opening Run++ up as an Open Source project.
August 06, 2006 15:35

I was using launchy before but now I'm moved to vista I find myself using the "start search" box at the end of the start menu. Just wondering what your opinions of that feature of vista are?
August 07, 2006 13:36
There's a new entry: Direct Access.

It would be nice if you could add it to the list.

In a nutshell, Direct Access enables you to specify meaningful words as global commands for opening applications, folders, and websites, composing emails and inserting autotext. For example, typing "note" might open Notepad, and typing "myname" could enter your name as autotext in any application, even one without built-in autotext!

Unlike most similar software, Direct Access is engineered from the user point of view: intuitive, well laid out, rapidly customizable, and properly documented. It's also designed to avoid irritating misfires - when it recognizes a command, it suggests an action via a tooltip, and quietly bows out if you don't hit the confirm key. Better yet, you can group related commands into popup menus... yes, triggered by another keyboard command.
August 07, 2006 16:30
Another for Google Desktop. I don't typically play around with tons of shell helpers, but I use Google Desktop for so many things. CTRL+CTRL is my friend. I use it to find files and programs.

Since you are interested in all these gadgets, you might want to try out geoshell. It completely replaces the default windows shell and is very customizable.
August 09, 2006 14:23
15 min * 5 days * 52 weeks ... I'm seriously worried, mate. Take a break. (52 weeks!?) Or am I just being European about this?
August 10, 2006 3:08
Launchy is unmanaged, not managed code.
August 15, 2006 21:05
SlickRun is da Bomb.

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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.