Ever find that your start menu is so full of programs and files that you just can’t stand hunting for things every day? If so, check out one of the ultimate power user programs: the launcher. With a few quick keystrokes, you can find and launch any program on your system. For this week’s Freeware Frenzy, I have rounded up four of the big name launchers to see which reigns supreme. Read on…

Launchy   

http://www.launchy.net

After installing Launchy, nothing will happen. I had to check the readme manual (which I recommend because it is short yet very comprehensive.) I found that Alt + Space (which you can remap) will hide and show Launchy on your desktop. From my experience, I found that Launchy was very good at finding the programs I was aiming for. And if it is stuck on one option you do not want, the suggestion box alternatives will have it. This box slides out after a moment’s pause from typing. I found I did not often need it, indeed you can turn it off entirely, but it was helpful when, for instance, I typed "word" and got WordPad first, with Office Word second. By default Launchy catalogues only your start menu, explaining the lack of an indexing process that you normally find with dedicated search apps such as: Windows Desktop Search and Copernic Desktop Search. All is not lost though because Launchy can be given any number of folders to include in its searches. My only complaint with Launchy came with trying to open a URL. Internet Explorer would open and load the page, but Windows came up with a "could not be found" error every time. Skinnable, portable and plug-in ready, Launchy was an impressive program overall. Let’s see how the others measure up.

SmartStartMenu  

http://www.planetharrington.com/products/smartstartmenu/

At the end of the installer, you will see some information on how to open SSM. It is now a part of your Windows toolbars. It will sit open next to your system tray, taking up as much space as you wish. The suggestion box is much larger by default but it was not perfect. I was perturbed that if I paused typing, my query would be replaced by the suggested option. But the problem was that I paused for a typo, not because the suggestion was correct. I also tried internet queries with SSM, which worked somewhat better then Launchy. Instead of an error, I would get two instances of Internet Explorer each time. I may spend a fair amount of time online, but I can handle one browser thank you. Like Launchy, you can add specific folders to index beside the default start menu entries. You can change hotkeys and create custom commands as well. While SmartStartMenu had similar features, I can’t help but knock it for its annoying suggestion system. Let’s move on to number three.

AppRocket  

http://www.candylabs.com/approcket/

After this installation, you will see a helpful little overview page on how to start using AppRocket. This program is very similar to Launchy, also using Alt + Space to hide/show. Interestingly this program was the only one of the roundup to trigger a Windows Security Alert. It was an unsettling omen of things to come, as AppRocket also suffers from bothersome search methods. Instead of taking over my typing after a pause though, AppRocket chose to start the search again! This was annoying because I often needed a moment to peruse the suggestion box before noticing I needed to type a few more letters to bring up exactly what I needed. I also have to bring AppRocket’s alphabetizing ability into question. After entering ‘calc’, the first suggestion was ‘calling’, then Calculator. Huh?

AppRocket searches more then your start menu by default, including My Documents, Favorites and the Desktop. You can of course add and remove these as you wish, as well as add skins and change hotkeys. You cannot launch websites, only the select ‘Web Queries’ such as Amazon, Google or your Bookmarks.

Find and Run Robot  

http://www.donationcoder.com/Software/Mouser/findrun/index.html

For what Find and Run Robot lacks in an imaginative name, it makes up for in pure functionality. F&RR uses the ‘Break’ key by default, as well as a system tray icon. I’ll pause while you scan for the Break key, its ok; I needed a second to find mine as well. What sets F&RR apart from the pack is the simple yet effective suggestion box tweak. Each of the suggestions are numbered, so you don’t need the mouse at all when your desired app is not the first selected. Just punch the number to launch whatever you like. Note that this applies to the numbers on the number pad, not the top row. There are a plethora of options to tweak F&RR, much more then any of the other programs here. As usual, you can add skins, new folders to index and edit hotkeys. You can also save search history to avoid common searches. Via the suggestion box, you can right click on results to create search rules, copy the shortcut path, explore the folder or check properties. This was the first of the group to load web pages without any weirdness.  Of the four programs included in this roundup, Find and Run Robot was my clear winner. It simply did it all without any hiccups.