review

Verdict: Visual Subst is off to the boneyard

I had my doubts even as I installed it…and Visual Subst didn’t last very long.  Very simply put, why should I install an always-on application that could be replaced with a single line of (extraordinary simple) code?

Adios.

Verdict: QT Lite (codec) is a keeper

The codec works…and it doesn’t come at the cost of idle system resources.  That’s what makes this version a true winner in my eyes–the fact that it lets me watch QuickTime in my browser without the overhead of installing the full application.

It took me a while to notice the impact this app had, but it became clear on Saturday morning.  I was trying to watch some quicktime videos of the mac/pc ads (inspiration and guidance for my PC costume).  I did this on my netbook, where I hadn’t installed the codec..and the video wouldn’t play.  Grump: I was watching them a day earlier on the computer with QT Lite installed.

Luckily QT Lite was only a quick install away.  Well worth it at this point.

Launchy: Because the start menu is a hassle

Launchy is a simple application launcher that is extremely easy to use, yet can be customized to carry out rather robust tasks.  It’s the first application I install on any computer, home or office, and when I’m on somebody else’s system, I have to catch myself because it’s so intuitive.

For some context, I spent a good chunk of impressionable computer years  in DOS or a DOS compatibility mode.  This means I had a flashing cursor and needed to type my way to the application of choice, but it was a navigation interface rather than my primary means of interacting with my data.  I got really quick at  typing in a full path to run a program, or creating a folder and creating batch files (.bat) that I could easily crank out.  I was the king of the world.  From any directory, I could type c:\mca\appname.bat and ZING, all 16 megahertz (today, more) of computing power let loose to load my app of choice.

Later, Windows.  Very pretty, much more accessible to…well…everyone.  Look at the pretty colors!!  Most of the apps I cared about were launched by navigating the start menu.  Oh boy did my start menu become an unwieldy beast.  Even the most carefully planned folders couldn’t help make sense of the jungle that was the start menu.  Heck, half of what was in there was crapware that came preinstalled or was an “added bonus application” of some other software purchased…just a mess.

Microsoft has done a good job of trying to manage the start menu.  Auto-hiding lesser used folders, improving the UI for direct manipulation of the layout, adding the recent applications section to the main start menu.  However, none of these things helped when I’d try to find an application that was extremely useful, though it was rarely used, and stored in a folder named after the developer, not the application.  Heaven forbid I resort to try the old school MS Search functionality to find the .exe…

In 2006 I stumbled across Launchy.  A lightweight application that’s brings itself up in a window with a simple key combination.  This window is a text window where you can start typing the application I want to run, and it starts showing the apps I may want to launch.

Launchy-starting an application

Launchy-starting an application

By hitting enter, or keying down to the desired program, ZING!  Off it goes.  No menus, no scanning of folders, no memorization of directory trees, no time wasted, period.  Because of Launchy, it doesn’t really matter what the name of the folder in the start menu is…if the app has a shortcut there, it’s indexed by Launchy.  Have another folder where applications or shortcuts live?  You can add that folder (or your entire hard drive) to the Launchy indexer.

The other thing Launchy has going for it is its intelligence.  If in the image above, I picked the “fractaltrace” application, the next time I typed in “calc”, the default application would be just that.

Vista and Windows 7 users have a similar type of launching function built into the start menu, however I’m an XP user (as many, many still are) and appreciate the simple, lightweight Launchy application.  Additionally, Launchy supports custom scripts, which allows you to extend it further than just an application launcher.  I plan to dive into this further sometime in the future.

Want to try it yourself?  I only hope you find it as crucial to a successful digital experience as I do.

Launchy (http://www.launchy.net) (Windows XP, Linux)

  • Notable Preferred Settings
    • Hide Launchy when it loses focus = Checked
    • Alt-Esc as hotkey combination
    • Index PortableApplications directory