Boss keys, aka boss buttons or panic buttons, have probably been around about an hour longer than computers--long enough for the first bored programmer to write the first string of code to clear the screen whenever the boss strolls by. And just think: they had no Web sites, no games, no chatting--none of today's distractions, which demand so much more time and effort. So we were tickled silly to see Don't Panic. It's a free application that can open, close, or hide multiple applications with a single button.
Don't Panic's interface has two modes: a small window with a panic button and File, Tools, and Help menus; and a Panic Mode that minimizes the program to a rectangular, semi-opaque panic button near the system tray. The File menu merely accesses an Exit button, but the Help menu offered not just Help and About files but also links for reporting bugs, requesting features, and other contacts. The Tools menu accesses the Panic Mode as well as a tabbed Options dialog that configures everything from opacity and updates to software actions such as whether to terminate processes (fast but messy) or close them (slower but safer) or to force the hiding of selected software. Don't Panic offers other stealth options, too, including deleting all shortcuts from the Recent Files folder and clearing your IE browsing history. We could also change the default hot key combination, though Don't Panic recommends testing manually entered combos since some might not work.
The true test of a boss button is how well it works, and Don't Panic worked perfectly. Tabs labeled Close (Hide) and Run let us browse to programs to close or run when Don't Panic is activated, including a Blacklist option. We browsed to a program to hide, entered it, and then repeated the process with a program to run. We saved our choices, pressed the panic button, and two things happened almost simultaneously: our open program closed, and our closed program opened. Don't Panic proved to be one of the best apps of its type we've seen.