How-To Geek

Ask The Readers: How Do You Organize Your Apps?

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Application organization and launching has improved significantly over the years but there’s always room for improvement and customization. This week we’re interested in hearing about your tips, tricks, and tools for efficiently organizing and launching your apps.

Do you stick with the OS defaults? Do you use third-party app launchers to streamline your workflow? Whether you’ve done some minor tweaking to the Start Menu or installed a brand new application dock, we want to hear all about it.

Sound off in the comments with your tips and tricks for avoiding time wasted searching for application shortcuts–check back in on Friday for the What You Said roundup to see how your fellow readers are wrangling their applications.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 03/21/12

Comments (39)

  1. phanmo

    Strangely, it’s about the only app I’ve used continuously without changing since I first got an Android phone…. App Organizer

  2. Henrique

    On my windows desktop I use the taskbar and to keep my day to day applications (basically firefox, itunes, office, adobe, evernote and wunderkit), and whenever I need something else, I use windows built in search, witch is quite fast, despite needing a few more clicks than spotlight would

    On my macbook the dock is basically a mirrors my taskbar, and I use spotlight for other applications, but launchpad is wining my heart a bit more every day. It’s faster then than accessing the applications folder and the windows start menu, and possibly even than spotlight, at least for apps

    For android, since I use MIUI (i.e. no app drawer) I keep a 2 page home screen, one with the most used apps, and widgets (gmail, music, facebook, evernote, clock, that kind of stuff) and a second with folders containing apps by general categories, like System apps, Google apps, Games, and Other apps. Occasionally apps I’m using quite a bit, but I know not for long, gain a temporary slot on the second screen vacant space

  3. Howard

    I use ClassicShell Start Menu to replace the windows 7 default and also Stardock Fences to arrange frequently used icons on my desktop by category.

  4. Daniel Lemire

    SlickRun + Windows Superbar.

    If it tends to stay open constantly (File Explorer, Firefox, Outlook), it makes it to the superbar. Everything else that is every used gets a magicword in SlickRun. Slickrun is nice because how I think of a program can be used to create the magic word, rather than the way the program installs itself (for example, I use runas.exe alot for work to use alternate credentials, so I don’t remember runas, I remember the context that I was to run in). My magic word is cmdtest, it launches cmd.exe using runas to set my credential to the test environment. It’s a huge time saver!

  5. TheFu

    Organized is ~/bin/ an answer?

    My 5 most used GUI apps have accel key-chords assigned. The rest are run from a real x-term. Don’t really use menus much. If I can’t recall the exact name, tab completion comes to the rescue. Many programs are scripted to do exactly as desired so there’s no need to remember the real name of the program, just the name of the script. Sometimes that script will run the program on a different machine and just ship the DISPLAY back to the machine I’m behind. Those are unimportant implementation details to me most of the time.

    On that-other-platform, I press cntl-esc type the first 2-3 letters of the app name and hit enter. It is easy to remember the program names since there are so few installed. Program safety first. The keyboard doesn’t have a “super” key or I’d tap that instead.

  6. MJ

    I have a few programs (folders, mail, browser, IM) pinned to the Windows taskbar/Ubuntu’s Unity launcher, then everything else is launched by pressing the Windows key, typing about 4 letters and pressing enter. Works with the Windows start menu and the Unity dash, although I may replace the dash with Gnome Do for its speed.

  7. David

    WIndows: The Taskbar (the most frequently-used programs) and Dell Dock (came with the PC and it works).

    Android: Standard Android folders (Favorites, Aud/Vid, Games, Money, News, Office, Reading, Reference, Sports, System, Tools, Travel).

  8. Nirin

    Rocketdock and Fences :)

  9. r

    I don’t organize my programs. I use the start menu / task-bar, run command or hunt things down in explorer the good old fashion way. Is this a big “time waster”? …probably, but I get paid by the hour to do this.

  10. tedED

    I use Lanuchy to launch applications. Needs a little setting up, but when its done its fast and simple. Other than that I use the Windows task bar for commonly used applications (i.e. chrome/FF/etc)

  11. Huisie

    The most effective change I made was switching to a portable apps launcher – Liberkey, in my case.
    I have a lot less apps in Windows Start Menu now.
    The portable apps don’t need reinstalling during a system re-install and can be kept in sync (I use Live Mesh).
    – Starts with Windows, icon in notification area
    – can arrange apps in folders to suit
    – can use “Key Files Association” feature to modify default apps
    – can install portable apps (including that aren’t in their catalogue
    – has search feature and portable documents option
    – can be put on a thumb drive for portable troubleshooting

    Windows Start Menu & Task Bar:
    – I create folders in Start Menu (both locations) and keep apps sorted and manageable
    – only 4 app icons in Windows Task Bar, for essential work apps
    – several pinned Windows utilities in Start Menu (character map, command prompt, snipping tool, etc)
    – also a couple of useful, non-work apps pinned to Start Menu
    – Windows Search works well to launch apps, as many have stated

  12. MiniMe

    I use MadAppLauncher. It is easy to use, does everything I possibly need, and is well organized. Couldn’t be better.

  13. Jim

    Launchy. That is all…

  14. Skeleter

    Created two folders, Games and Tools. These folders i added to the taskbar as a toolbar. In the folders i created for each Genre a folder, for example Office Applications, Video Editing, Music Editig and so on and there are my application links listet.
    Also i’ve pinned my 5 most used applications on the taskbar in Windows 7.
    That’s all no third-party software, only organisation with Windows Standards, for 10 Years.

  15. afuhnk

    I’m a big fan of everything minimalist.
    I hide the desktop icons (appart from not installing shortcuts there), use only 2 icons in taskbar (Chrome and Firefox). Everything I use is either run by command line (Win+R) or pinned to the start menu.

  16. rekab

    I have assign keyboard shortcuts to my most used programs and have a Utilities folder on the taskbar. For everything else, tap the Windows key and start typing.

  17. Lisa Wang

    That’s my configuration as well:)
    On my Win7 laptop:
    Fences organizes my currently in use files and some ‘drop to shortcut’ apps(ReNamer,PrimoPDF,Dropzone, and the like) as well as my inbox.
    I already organized my applications in folders, then using Stack Docklet for Rocketdock I pin the application shortcut folder(containing all apps I’m using) and some frequented folders. I really recommend this extension to anyone using Rocketdock.
    I pin StickyNotes and web browsers to taskbar.
    Major time saver. AutoHotkey is also a very good addition,allowing you to launch just everything by using simple keystrokes.

    However, as Skeleter said, the best beginning is by organizing the application manually at first, then you can move on using whatever method you prefer. On my Windows XP Desktop, I do the same thing he does.

  18. Mike

    I Use FENCES – free from website

    It allows you organise apps icons and docs that I use constantly onto desktop into groups. No more START, programs etc, no more loojking through directories.

    Two clicks of a mouse all icons disappear so I can see wallpaper

    Two clicks and all icons back again

    Simple and easy

  19. gerry

    I did the same as Skeleter. I created a folder that I called ‘MyLauncher”. Inside that folder I created about twenty category folders. I added the myLauncher folder to the task bar as a toolbar. All I have to do is move shortcuts to the appropriate category folder when I install or update any software. This gives me an easy to use, sorted, cascading listing of all my applications… oh and I added shortcuts for my most often used folders, windows tools and control panel items as well.

  20. Stan Brown

    I launch virtually all my apps through purely keyboaard methods; there are litrerally only three that I launch with the mouse.

    With Windows 7, it’s dead easy to launch programs natively. For instance, with Karen’s Replicator I just hit the Windows key, type replic and hit Enter. This has greatly simplified launching most programs, and I can’t imagine any sort of app launcher making it easier.

    For really frequently used programs, I have dedicated key combinations, such as Ctrl-Alt-E to launch Excel and Ctrl-Shift-Alt-F for Filezilla. This is easy too: after installation I find the app in the Start menu, right-click and select Properties, then click into Shortcut Key and specify my key. With Windows XP I had azillion of these and needed an app to keep track of them, but with Windows 7’s improved search (previous paragraph) I have only maybe half a dozen, and carry them in my head.

    The only ones I have pinned to the taskbar are my three frequently-used Internet apps: Firefox, Gravity, and Thunderbird. They’re all graphical, so since I need to have the mouse in my hand anyway when running them it’s no hardship to use the mouse to launch them.

  21. dragonbite

    I try and minimize what is in the task bar, except for the (very) few I usually run (Chrome for instance, the file manager for another).

    I pin to the Start Menu more of the commonly-used programs which usually includes at least 1 email program and 1-2 browsers.

    Everything else, I use the Start Menu’s search capabilities to quickly pull up what I want to use.

  22. J00020

    I use the taskbar in Windows 7 for my most frequently used programs and search bar for the rest.

  23. Ryan

    The 12 most used programs I pin to the start menu, to launch any other program I search for it through the start menu. I have previously used a variety of different launchers, docks and the windows 7 taskbar but I find this the easiest/quickest method and keeps the screen from being cluttered.

  24. Roi

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Rainmeter!

    I use a completely customized Rainmeter desktop, with fancy stuff all over the place :D

  25. jeepers

    All hail Rainmeter. Not only will it search google from the desktop, monitor your hardware & drive(s) space, display rss feeds, show a calendar/clock, gather your local weather, and show power on/off, but it has many types of app launchers all in the form of skins. Small learning curve on how to edit the .ini config files. I replaced the win 7 start menu with ClassicShell: Start Menu & explorer enhancer bar. Love their ability to add custom menu items. But what if you have a large group of programs in one folder or drive? I suggest you try StandaloneStack2 or 7 Stacks, (I found 7 Stacks loaded faster.) Either has a grid view that’s much better than nav-pane tree view. Haven’t used a dock or a desktop gadget in years! Even turned off the sidebar.exe on my Win 7 HP SP1.

  26. carlmarz10

    Running Ubuntu+KDE: I use Cairo-Dock. I make launcher categories such as ‘System’, ‘Office’ etc, assign custom icons and populate with favourite apps. Looks really nice and is very fast. Highly recommended :)

  27. NeutralVelocity

    Windows = RocketDock and task bar.
    Ubuntu = Unity and (learning) CLI

  28. craisin

    Fences is the best!

  29. Steven Shaffer

    I use my own custom assortment of portable apps, ran from a separate partition on my hard drive. Then I install Rocketdock and place shortcuts to my apps on the dock.

    TIP: once you’ve installed Rocketdock and get everything setup and customized, back up the Rocketdock install folder. Then if you need to format and re install Windows for any reason you just re install Rocketdock. Then copy your backed up folder over top of the installed one and you get all you customization back.

  30. trezguet

    How do I organize my apps? By not installing Windows 8.

  31. LadyFitzgerald

    I keep my most often used apps and shortcuts to a couple of frequently used folders in the quick launch menu in the taskbar. I size the area of the quicklaunch area so only the ones I frequently use daily show (seven apps and two folders) and the ones I use frequently (my malware programs mostly) go into the “overflow” menu.

    I use the Start Menu as is to access the rest of my programs since I don’t use them enough to worry about hoiw long it would take to get to them (which breally isn’t very long). The more frequently used ones get pinned to the menu, the rest I have to click Programs to get to.

    I don’t keep any program icons on my desktop. I find it is just too clunky and junky. I use the desktop for my monthly calendar, virtual post it notes, and as a temporary parking place for files and folders I’m still working on (access is faster and having them “in my face” makes it easier to remember them).

  32. NewbeeGeezer

    I still use the caveman tools from early Windows: Drag an application shorcut to the desktop, then add a keyboard shortcut to its Properties. Ctl-Shft-W, Ctl-Shft-X, Ctl-Shft-Q are for Word, Excel & Outlook, while Ctl-Shft-G takes me to Google, and I have a dozen other key combinations that take me to my common folders in Windows Explorer. By now, I forgot them all, but my fingers never forget. So much quicker — never touch the mouse to launch an app unless you have to….

  33. Othni

    Launchy and Fences!

  34. Ed

    85 to 90 percent of what I run, I launch via Autohotkey. Since I don’t want to see or have need for the Windows taskbar, I used to depend on TaskbarHider to hide it, but the taskbar kept reappearing.

    For this purpose, in XP I used to replace the shell with Liteshell, which hid everything including the taskbar and icons. I don’t see any need for the shell replacements, which simply replace the Explorer shell with another. Now I just shut down Windows Explorer and launch via Autohotkey. No taskbar, no desktop, no mess, just a clean screen. Life is good.

  35. FS


  36. BornInSpring

    AutoHotkey, man. It’s the bomb. I have most of my programs and some of my most-used folders, documents and websites setup to be run with two key taps each. So quick. I love it.

  37. PTR

    I use good old RocketDock for all my PCs. and DeskPins to nail anything that I want to keep on top. Replacing built-in icons (boring old folders) with more colorful ones in RD is very easy, and all my frequently used items go there.

  38. David

    1. sTabLauncher (free, modern, docked, tabbed (categorised) – allows dropping files.
    (Previously the 1998(?) Launchmate.. still runs fine on Vista..!)
    – both comparatively low RAM cost
    2. Classic menu (categorised using iconised folders)
    3. A few in Quick Launch

    4. Executor (rather than Launchy) is also available.

    And finally:
    When installing apps, I define the install path to use iconised folders, usually the same as those I’ve defined in the Start Menu and sTabLauncher (E.g. Utilities, Multimedia, Internet, Office…).

    – except for those annoying ones that don’t allow install path customisation…

  39. tloud

    Used to be Rocketdock and Fences. Now it is Rocketdock and Splinter. Splinter is better suited for me than Fences because I like to change how my desktop looks A LOT. I get bored easily. The videos I have seen show that it can be a dock, too, which would be nice if it was all in one app. But I haven’t figured out the scripting part all the way yet.

    Good thing the images/icons/”splicons(?) can be moved around by hand or I wouldn’t know where to start. All i know is that I want to be able to do what they show on the videos and my entire next weekend is dedicated to it.

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