Killer Download: Better launchers for Mac and Windows

Windows Explorer and the Mac OS X Finder are perfectly fine for navigating your hard drive, but if you want a way to get to apps, files, and URLs even faster, check out this week's Killer Download.

Killer Download

The Windows and Mac operating systems are both intended to be easy to navigate so you can get to your files quickly. Ideally, once our computers are fully booted up it should only take us a couple of steps before we can start working (or playing, as the case may be). While Windows Explorer and the Finder are adequate for navigating apps and files, it still takes a few unnecessary steps before you can get started.

While both operating systems offer a quicker option than digging through folders--Windows has the Quick launch bar and Mac offers the Dock--they tend to fill up pretty fast and before I know it, launching my favorite apps becomes a little less than quick. Fortunately, there's a whole category of third-party launchers designed to get you to your apps fast and offer varying options to increase productivity and improve workflow.

This week I've rounded up a pair of apps for each operating system to help you quickly launch your must-have software, Web sites, and files. Each has their own set of options that I like for different reasons, and the one that you choose should be the one that maximizes your productivity.

Customize Launchy's skin to your desktop so you can open apps in style. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Launchy for Windows is a popular free launcher in the office here at for quick access to apps and files. Simply hit a hot key to bring up the Launchy interface and type in a few letters to show results offering the best match. Not only can you launch your favorite apps and files, Launchy also searches your default browser's favorites file for matches to your most visited Web sites. To top it all off, the program is completely skinnable so you can customize it to fit the look of your desktop.

Fast Launcher
Separate your apps and files into groups with this app. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Fast Launcher lets you hit Control-Alt-X or double click a tray icon to bring up a nicely organized interface. This app takes a bit of setting up, but when you're done you can get to any app, file, or control panel in only a couple of clicks. Though you can't get to bookmarked Web pages like Launchy, Fast Launcher offers the option of creating groups so you can organize and launch multiple apps and files simultaneously. The drawback to this app is the lengthy setup that makes you drill down to find the apps you want to add to the interface. But when you're done, you'll like how quickly you can launch anything on your hard drive.

A sleek interface makes it easy to get to the files and apps you want. (Credit: CNET Networks)

QuickSilver for Mac has been a longtime favorite of mine (and many Mac users) for getting to apps and files quickly. Like Launchy for Windows, Mac users can type in a couple of keys to find just about anything and hit enter to launch. But what makes Quicksilver even better is the ability to perform specific actions with the files you find. Hitting the Tab key brings you to the action field where you can upload your updated page to your Web site via FTP, send a file in an e-mail, and queue up an album in iTunes, for example--all from within the interface. It also doesn't hurt that this free app is great to look at, fitting in perfectly with the smooth lines of OS X.

Organize your files into DragThing's tabbed interface for easy access (Credit: CNET Networks)

DragThing for Mac has been around since the Classic Mac OS as a way to add Dock-like launchers to your Mac desktop. Simply drag files, apps, and URLs to DragThing's dock to fill it up with your most-used stuff. What's great about this app is its flexibility. For example, you can choose to only launch specific DragThing docks alongside certain programs, filled with useful apps and files for that program. You can create as many as you want and it offers several customization options so you can create just the look you need for the job. When you want it out of the way, it minimizes like a drawer to the edge of your screen. If you're looking for ways to group programs and files together for easy access under specific workflow circumstances, DragThing is the launcher for you. You'll have to pay for all this flexibility though ($29).

If you use certain programs on a regular basis, it's much easier to use one of these programs to launch them quickly so you can start working right away. Also, whenever you need to get to a URL or open a specific project, these programs can you save you the hassle of searching through the Windows start menu or the Mac's Finder through countless folders. If you have a favorite launcher that's not listed here, please tell me about it in the comments!

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.