Launchers and docks
We really like the new taskbar and keyboard shortcuts for launching programs in Windows 7, but if you don't, or if you're stuck on Windows XP or in Vista, we recommend one of these four tools to help you get to your programs faster.
Small and swift, Find and Run Robot makes searching files and launching programs go faster than a Black Friday deal. The program, also known as FARR, is great for those who love options. If you're the indecisive type, though, you may want to stay clear.
Search results are numbered and automatically sorted using built-in scoring systems unique to the program. If you want returned-result No. 9, for example, simply type ALT+9 and hit Enter -- there's no need to touch the mouse or continue typing a longer string. Using the numeric pad and the Num Lock key obviates the need to use Alt. A Launch History tab keeps track of what you've launched.
Users can do nearly anything with the app, from adjusting the font size, style, and color to monitoring the clipboard, taking basic screen captures, Web searches, customizing hot keys, and calculation functions. FARR is also fully portable, making this a must-have whether you're on a desktop or a laptop. Read full review
Skinnable Launchy lets you open nearly any program, file, folder, or Web site on your system with just a few keystrokes. Enter the first few letters of a file or program, and it automatically displays the rest of the name. Press Enter to open or launch it. If the displayed name isn't the item you want, a few seconds later the tool displays a drop-down list with other likely candidates from which you can choose.
In our tests, we were easily able to configure the tool to choose from multiple directories among our system's other users' folders. Besides files, folders, and apps, Launchy also displayed site names from our default browser's Favorites file.
Similar to Find and Run Robot, its system search wasn't quite as in-depth, but its default interface is larger and easier to read. Read full review
One of the most popular Windows dock replacements, ObjectDock, replaces the taskbar with a colorful, animated dock similar to the Dock in Mac OS X. It displays icons for currently running programs and hosts quick-launch icons for your favorite programs. As you pass the cursor over each icon, ObjectDock magnifies it. An attractive clock rounds out the toolbar. It comes with skins, and users with slow computers can reduce the animation quality to increase speed. You can also customize nearly every aspect of the dock, easily maximizing its hefty resource usage to your best advantage.
Besides being a bit sluggish, it lacks a system tray replacement. You can also upgrade to the Plus edition for $20, which includes system tray support, tabbed docks, support for multiple docks and multiple monitors, and other features. Read full review
Simply put, RocketDock soars. From a smooth installation to often-flawless icon transitions and an unobtrusive footprint, it has it all--especially on newer systems. The app is loaded with options. It can live on any of the four edges of your monitor, and you can set it to always be on top, on bottom, autohide, or be ever-present. It comes with more than 20 skins; fonts and colors are fully customizable, as is the icon order; and you can choose which icons are displayed, independent of the program's actual icon.
One drawback of the program is that the main settings menu is not where you go to add in and configure these extras. Instead, they're accessible from a secondary settings menu available only by right-clicking on the dock itself. It's frustrating, but not a major problem, and hopefully can be addressed in future updates. Read full review