At the high end of app launcher stratosphere are a couple of Mac apps worthy of use, both expensive, but in this case, both are very powerful and do more than the sum of their parts. What do you want an app launcher to do? Launch apps? That’s only for starters.
I also need a simple and fast way to navigate through folders and files to launch either an app (one that’s not in the Dock), or grab a file and launch it and the associated app.
Two Rich Kids On The Block
Near the top of the list for app launchers that do more than launch and come highly customizable is DragThing. This launcher has been around since the last century. It uses the time honored approach to launching apps or files and navigating your Mac’s file hierarchy. The floating palette.
Move your mouse pointer to a hot corner (or, invoke a hotkey combo from the keyboard), and DragThing pops up on the screen. Visually, it’s a grid. Grab an app or file from your Mac and drop it onto a square on the grid. Then click the icon and the app (or file) opens.
Drag your Mac’s disk volume to DragThing, then click the disk icon, and a navigation window pops up so you can peruse the contents of your Mac. Ditto for folders.
This may be the king of Mac app customizations, too. Control size, color, and location of the floating palettes with more features and settings than Rush Limbaugh has Macs.
For one dollar more there’s LaunchBar. Where DragThing is visual, LaunchBar is discrete and highly keyboard driven.
LaunchBar carries functionality to areas you’d never find in DragThing. Hit the hotkey combo in LaunchBar and start typing.
The app handles abbreviations and launches apps or files. It lets you browse your Mac without digging into files– it looks through folders, Address Book, bookmarks, or anything that might contain what you type into the search.
But it remembers. It remembers your Mac’s clipboard history so you can find again what you once copied or cut. Once you find a file, LaunchBar uses Quick Look so you’re a space bar away from viewing the file.
Coolest of all it integrates with specific apps. For example, create events and to-do items in iCal without using iCal.
If you’ve never used a keyboard driven launch and navigation app, LaunchBar will scare the bejesus out of you. Try DragThing first. But if you live on the keyboard all day long and the Mac’s mouse or trackpad actually slow you down, your life will improve with LaunchBar.
Both are premium Mac apps with a long heritage. There are cheaper and easier ways to launch apps and navigate your Mac. These are pro-caliber apps for Mac users with an attitude about getting things done.