Productivity Boost: Key Stroke Launchers

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Productivity is a tricky thing. Once you’ve found your way to get things done, you aren’t likely to change anything until the system (your workflow or your tools) doesn’t work any more. For instance, many developers tend to use the very same versions of applications they’ve been using over years. After all, you get things done and you’ve got used to it — so why should you introduce any changes? “Never touch the running system” is the principle which is often followed in such situations.

Touch The Running System!

However, this approach has its drawbacks. For instance, you might simply be not aware of some useful tools which would save you many headaches, a lot of money and dozens of sleepless nights. Using them, you can become more efficient, more productive and consequently minimize the time you spend on tiring, monotonous daily routine tasks.

Over the next months we are going to cover a number of useful tools, services and applications which might help you to improve your workflow and increase your productivity. Most of them will turn out to be life-savers in practice, as they help you to accomplish some tasks automatically and you would need to do them manually otherwise.

In this article we present some free key stroke launchers — desktop-applications which you can use to start some other applications without a single mouse click.

Key Stroke Launcher?

If you are a professional web-developer you might have dozens of different tools you use on a regular basis. And, once you have them, you also want them to be ready to hand once you need them. However, the regular Windows start menu consists of a long list of applications, and the desktop is usually full of icons, so it’s pretty hard to have a big picture of what is where placed.

Not every application’s shortcut is perfectly arranged for a quick launch, because the programs are not sorted in an alphabetic order or the desktop looks like an icon-jungle. So you need to navigate through the Start menu or minimize some windows to finally click on the desktop icons. That’s not effective.

Good news: you can do better. In such cases you can use Launchy, KeyBreeze or Google Desktop to improve your productivity.

Launchy

Launchy1 is a free, lightweight Windows utility which helps you to open files, folders, web-sites and applications with a few key-strokes. In the shape of a little search bar, the tool appears to your service by pressing the Alt + Spacebar key combination.

Just type the first letters of the program you’d like to start or site’s URL you’d like to visit and the tool provides you with possible matches of your query.

Launchy 2
Image: Launchy3

Apart from a number of plug-ins, Launchy also offers some further functionalities for specific search. To look up some topic in Wikipedia or Google, type in "wikipedia", or “Google” then hit the tab key and enter the topic you are interested in. If you’d like to check the weather, type in "weather", then input the zip code, city name or state. Similarly, you can also play your favourite tracks and search local directories for some file.

If you don’t like the default look or would like to change it from time to time you can can select one of the skins. You can find a number of Launchy skins here4; however, most of them don’t work with the latest version of the tool, so you might need to download the previous version (1.25).

Launchy
“Aero” skin

Launchy is the winner in the category “Best new project” in the Sourceforge.Net 2007 Community Choice Awards.

Keybreeze

Similarly to Launchy, KeyBreeze5 is a free key stroke launcher which tries to guess the application, document or site you’re looking for. However, it has a dozens of further features which can serve as little productivity tweaks.

The tool also enables you to perform system tasks, control windows on your screen and use macros for some repetitive tasks, such as backing up files and folders.

Launchy6

If you’d like to insert some phrase you tend to use often in your conversation, you can instead of using some data stored on your PC, you can use text functions which will paste predefined text automatically into the document or text field which is currently active.

What makes KeyBreeze particularly useful is that you can create notes and to-do lists on the desktop and also set reminders — instantly.

KeyBreeze7

There is also a portable USB version of the tool as well as a number of plug-ins which are available on the official web-site.

Google Desktop

Actually, Google Desktop8 has proved to be the ultimate solution when it comes to desktop search. Coming with a Google Sidebar, Desktop brings the advanced search functionalities as known from the conventional Google search.

Launchy 9

However, Google Desktop can also be used as the ultimate key stroke launcher. Once the tool has finished indexing your data, you can hit Ctrl twice and the quick search box will appear. As Google Desktop provides full text search over email, files, music, photos, chats, Gmail and web pages that you’ve viewed, you can launch applications, open files and load web-pages in a browser without a single click.

Apart from that, there are a number of great uses for Google Desktop10, such as file versioning or file recovery. You can also place gadgets on your desktop to show you new email, weather, photo and personalized news. In fact, we’ve covered a number of useful gadgets and modules for Google Desktop in our article Google Gadgets, Widgets and Modules11.

Conclusion

Whatever tool you choose in the end, used properly, it will save you a number of unnecessary clicks and help you to get a little more productive without any effort. On a large scale these small changes can completely reduce annoying tasks you needed to do on a regular basis. Just getting rid of them is a significant step towards a more effective and productive workflow.

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.launchy.net/
  2. 2 http://www.launchy.net/
  3. 3 http://www.eoghanobrien.com/article/30/mmmlaunchy
  4. 4 http://www.launchyskins.com/
  5. 5 http://www.keybreeze.com
  6. 6 http://www.keybreeze.com
  7. 7 http://www.keybreeze.com
  8. 8 http://desktop.google.com/index.html
  9. 9 http://desktop.google.com
  10. 10 http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2006/09/10-great-uses-for-google-desktop.html
  11. 11 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/03/01/google-gadgets-widgets-and-moduls/

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  1. 1

    What about Mac Software? And Mac OSX itself, there are a lot of productive tools build right in the OS.

    One nice trick in windows:

    Double your taskbar and add the address field. So you can quickly access folders and files.

    Maybe you should write about some productivity enhancements in the operation systems, some are not difficult to discover but they are worth a lot of time!

    Great article by the way!

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  2. 52

    Are you shure that launchers is absolutely free ?

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  3. 103

    Guys, could you please make an overview of the Opera’s address bar functionality, which is a built in high-functional thing, that only can’t open apps from the desctop, but everything else is done in a very convinient way, and you dont have to install any extra software…

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  4. 154

    ENSO ENSO ENSO! Great.

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  5. 205

    I’ve tried enso from humanized, but I won’t recommend it. Short review

    + very handy interaction model
    + nice layout

    – resource hog, eats lot of main memory.
    – startup time of windows becomes longer.
    – no multi-user installer. If you install it in an administrator-account, then it won’t launch on a normal user account.

    Keybreeze uses between 1,500 K and 10,000 K of memory. It doesn’t index your filesystem automatically, you need to add shortcuts.
    Launchy weight 12 M in main memory, looks nicer, but has less functionality.

    I” try launchy.

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  6. 256

    We are using AutoHotkey to do more than a hundred often-used tasks:
    Open files/folders/websites, start programs/emails, enter accounts, change fonts, select default printer, track shipping and so on. We use an Enterpad keyboard to start each task so we don’t have to remember any hotkeys.

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  7. 307

    Vista uses an index search system to keystroke launch anything in the start menu, or instantly find anything in a folder/control panel/etc.

    Firefox 3 also features a great keystroke launch system in the browser address field. A massive time-saver!

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  8. 358

    I am using Typing Assistant, it reduces my repetitive typing a lot, worth to try.

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  9. 409

    I’m using Launchy and this is quite good piece of software. I found nice review here: http://softfinder.com/launchy

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