How-To Replace Your Start Menu With Launchy

Maximum PC Staff

From Windows 95 right on through to Windows 7, the Start Menu has always been just a wee bit short of perfection when it comes to increasing your productivity. Requiring users to seek out content through an seemingly endless series of nested drop down menus, and folders with company names you can’t remember having ever seen before, it’s a user interface element that was designed to make our lives easier, but in actuality slows our workflows down to a crawl. Fortunately, Launchy has been helping Windows users get back up to speed since 2007.

For those of you not familiar with this fabulous, free utility, Launchy is a Start Menu alternative that provides you with wicked fast access to every file, bookmark and program on your PC using nothing more than a few keystrokes. Once you’ve installed it and bent Launchy to your will, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it. We know you’re curious about this one. Why not follow along for a few paragraphs? We promise to make it worth your while.

Step One: Installation

If you’re going to install Launchy, you’re going to need to download it first. You can snag yourself a copy of the utility’s .EXE file here . At the time this feature was written, Launchy came in two different flavors — a stable version (version 2.5) and a beta (version 2.6). While we’re all for progress, this how-to is supposed to stress how Launchy can improve your PC productivity, not slow it down to a glitch-filled crawl. With this in mind, we recommend downloading the utility’s stable version. It’s worth mentioning that while Launchy works like a charm with Windows 7 32x installations. Windows 7 x64 installations? Not so much. From what we’ve experienced, you can install Launchy on an x64 system, and index everything your PC is rocking without any issues. However, should you try to launch any of x64 applications through the utility, you’ll be rewarded with a hot, steaming plate of fail. The root of this issue stems from the fact that Launchy is a 32-bit application, plain and simple. Given that Launchy’s history spans half a decade and a various iterations of Windows, there’s little doubt that the application’s development team will be addressing this issue with an update sooner or later. With this being the case, Windows 7 x64 users may want to steer clear of installing Launchy for the time being. Now, with the fine print out of the way, we can get down to the nitty-gritty of getting Launchy up and running.

Once you’ve downloaded Launchy, open it up and begin the installation. You’ll be asked to jump through the typical hoops that come with any software installation, including folder location, agreeing to Launchy’s software and whether or not you want to see a shortcut added to your desktop as part of the installation process. To this latter question, answer ‘yes’. Because of its core app-finding and file-finding functionality, it’s a little redundant to use a shortcut once you’re up and running with Launchy, but until you understand how to put the utility to work for you, you’re going to want to utilize a shortcut to complete the setup process.

Step Two: Set Up

By default, Launchy will index the programs in your Start menu automatically, making it possible to locate and start any of them with just a few keystrokes. For example, if you want to start up Firefox, you can do so by typing in the first few letters of the browser’s name. Launchy allows users to extend this same keystroke-easy search functionality to just about any other file or program on your PC as well. In order to do so, however, you’ll need to point Launchy in the right direction. Look to the Options pane and click on the Catalog tab. See that button all gussied up with an Add symbol? Click it.

In doing so, you’ll be rewarded with the ability to hunt down additional folders and files from your PC’s internal or external storage locations to include in Launchy’s catalog. Once you’re done, click OK. If you’re fussy about what kinds of files get thrown into your Launchy search catalog, you can even specify what extensions and executables are included by using the File Types dialogue located on the right hand side of the Catalog options pane.

When you’ve located the files or folders that you want to include in your Launchy catalog, click the Rescan Catalog button. Boom: the folder or file you selected has been added to your Launchy catalog. You can repeat this process for as many folders or files as you want to. Sure this is a little more work than any of us might actually want to do, but it’ll pay off huge dividends in the end.

Step Three: Customize

Since you’re already customizing your PC to make hunting down applications and files a whole lot easier, you may as well take a little time to customize your customization. If you look at Launchy’s option panes, you’ll notice there’s tabs titled skins and another called Plugins. We won’t insult your intelligence by explaining what purpose each of these serves. Select a skin (or, if you feel like being difficult, don’t), for your Launchy interface. Now, turn your attention to the Plugins tab.

Launchy comes with six plugins baked right in, and they’re enabled by default. In our opinion, the best of the bunch is one named Controly, which makes it possible for Launchy to add Control Panel items to its search index. If you don’t think that’s huge, just consider how many times a week you’re forced to jump through fire to access a single Control Panel function. Yeah, now you’re getting the idea. There’s some other great plugins here as well, including one that allows internet searches from right inside of your Launchy interface, user command line access and even a calculator capable of doing some pretty complex number crunching. If for some reason, you feel like this is all too much awesome for you to handle, the plugins can be turned off with the click of a check box. Oh, and if you’ve got a hankering for additional plugins, you can download them here.

Step Four: Put Launchy to Work

You’ve installed Launchy, skinned it and tweaked it. Now it’s time for the easiest part of this tutorial: Using it. To access launchy, press your keyboard’s Alt key and spacebar at the same time. Your freshly skinned Launchy interface will pop up on the desktop, just begging for some text input. Go ahead and give it a try. Based upon what you’ve entered into Launchy’s text field, you’ll be presented with a number of search results.

Just use your keyboard’s arrow keys to navigate down to the program or file that you’re looking for, click Enter and Launchy will launch the item, faster than you could ever hope to even open your Start Menu. In no time at all, you’ll be using Launchy like a pro and wondering why anyone would ever want to do anything as old school as open up their Start Menu.

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