If you are not a fan of the Start menu in Windows 10, here are three alternative program launchers, including one that emulates the Mac’s dock. They work on Windows 7 too.
SlickRun is a simple, but clever utility that has a minimalist design. It displays a small box on the screen that shows the memory usage as a percentage, and the date and time.
Click this and it becomes a text input box into which you can type a command called a MagicWord. These have an associated action, such as starting a program or opening a browser and going to a web page.
It comes with a collection of predefined MagicWords, but you are not limited to these and you can create your own. You could, for example, create a MagicWord called ‘Word’ and set this to run Microsoft Word when it is typed into SlickRun.
You can run Paint by typing ‘paint’, you could open Chrome by typing ‘chrome’ or Opera by typing ‘opera’, and so on. Any word can be associated with any program. Add-on packs of MagicWords can be downloaded and added to the program to save you having to create your own.
This is just a 1MB program that takes up little disk space, but if you are the sort of person that likes to run programs by typing their names rather than hunting for them on the Start menu, it’s great.
LaunchBar Commander is a free utility that performs several functions and when it is first run it displays a small toolbar with four icons. This can be dragged to the sides of the desktop and docked so it is like another taskbar.
The first three buttons display menus that enable you to quickly access the Control Panel items, access the files and folders in your Documents folder, and access items on the Start menu.
The fourth icon is for launching programs. Right clicking the toolbar enables the configuration options to be accessed and here you can add items to the sample menu or create menus of your own.
At the bare minimum you create a menu name and then select the command path – the program you want to launch. There are optional arguments, such as a file for a program, or a URL for a browser, and the working directory can be set. The program can also be run in administrator mode.
LaunchBar Commander is an alternative way to access programs that you would normally either have to search the Start menu for, or clutter the desktop with shortcuts.
One bonus feature is that it runs as a portable program. This means you just unzip it and run it, with no installation required. Portable apps are useful for keeping Windows clean and they don’t change any system settings.
Nexus is another free utility, but it is unlike the other two. Those are tiny 1MB and 3MB utilities, whereas Nexus is a substantial 43MB.
If you have ever used or seen an Apple Mac, Nexus is basically a Windows version of the Mac’s Dock. There are differences, but you can certainly see where the ideas came from.
It comes with a few items already in the dock, such as a clock, CPU and RAM meters, weather forecast, and desktop capture tool. You add your own programs to it by dragging them from an Explorer window. Files and folders can also be dropped on the Nexus bar to add them.
As the mouse passes over the Nexus items, they magnify just like the Dock items do on the Mac. The apps you add need high quality icons or they look a bit fuzzy, which spoils the effect slightly.
Hovering over an icon displays information, a weather forecast in the case of the weather icon, file information in the case of programs and files.
Nexus has a comprehensive collection of settings and these enable you to customise it in countless ways. There are a dozen configuration tabs, almost 30 graphical themes and a gazillion settings. It is an impressive utility.
The best program launcher
It is hard to decide on a winner because each utility is useful in its own way. Nexus is brilliant and it looks fantastic. It is a great utility and well worth trying if you are looking for an alternative to Windows Start menu and taskbar. It is the winner of this group test.
Nexus is quite a large program for a launcher though and SlickRun is tiny in comparison. It would be worth checking out if your PC has limited memory and disk space. LaunchBar Commander isn’t much bigger and it has the bonus of being portable.