How-To Geek

5 Ways To Quickly Launch Programs On Windows


Do you still launch programs on Windows by hunting down a desktop shortcut and double-clicking it? There are better ways – Windows has several built-in tricks for quickly launching applications.

Even if you know all the built-in tricks, you may want to try out Launchy or another third-party launcher – some people swear by them. They offer more features than the Start menu search built into Windows.

Taskbar Keyboard Shortcuts

On Windows 7, you can press the Windows key along with a number to quickly launch the corresponding application on your taskbar.

For example, WinKey+1 launches the first application pinned to your taskbar, while WinKey+2 launches the second one.

If the program is already open, pressing this shortcut will switch to it. If the program has multiple windows open, pressing this shortcut will switch between them – it behaves just like clicking the taskbar icon.


Start Menu Search

You can use the Start menu’s search feature to launch a program with just a few key presses. First, press the Windows key on your keyboard.

Next, start typing part of a program’s name – you can start typing immediately after pressing the Windows key. Typing a program’s full name, such as Mozilla Firefox will work, but you can also type part of a program’s name to launch it even faster.

For example, you can press the Windows key, type fir, and press Enter to quickly launch Firefox. (This may not work if you have another application installed with fir in its name.)


You can also use this trick to quickly open files on your computer – just type part of their name.

Custom Shortcut Key

If you launch an application frequently, you can assign a custom keyboard shortcut to it.

First, locate the application in your start menu or on your desktop, right-click its shortcut, and select Properties.


Click the Shortcut key box and type your desired keyboard shortcut. Press the keyboard shortcut you define here to launch the application from anywhere in Windows.


Run Dialog

You can also use the Run dialog to quickly launch applications. Open it by pressing WinKey+R.

In the Run dialog, type the name of a program’s .exe file and press Enter to launch it. For example, type firefox and press Enter to launch Firefox or type chrome and press Enter to launch Chrome.


Launchy and Other Third-Party Launchers

Launchy is one of the most popular launcher applications for Windows, and it’s free.

After installing it, press Alt+Space anywhere in Windows and the Launchy window will appear (you can change this shortcut in Launchy’s preferences, if you like.)

Type a search and press Enter to launch an application, open a file, or visit a website. It’s smarter than the Start menu in several ways – for example, typing ffx into Launchy will match Firefox.

It also includes other features, such as a quick calculator and plug-ins for searching your bookmarks.


Launchy also works on Windows XP, where it’s even more useful – it brings the quick application search feature found in Windows Vista and Windows 7’s Start menu to Windows XP users.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 09/10/12

Comments (44)

  1. Arston

    I still don’t get why people use Run in Windows 7? It’s exactly the same as typing it in the start menu. That’s the whole reason it was taken out from there.

  2. MJ

    +1 for Start Menu Search – I’ve disabled the search for files and folders in the Start Menu, and I even disabled indexing except for the folder in which Start Menu shortcuts are stored, so launching programs is blazing fast.

  3. Murali

    Wow… I never knew about Win+1 shortcut.

  4. shawn

    nice reminders! thx

    i still use launchy more than anything :)

  5. r

    the use of the run command pre-empted Group Policies. This was a simple way for admins to access certain programs that regular users couldn’t/shouldn’t easily find. Of course this has changed, & for the most part “search programs & files” is the same as “run command”. You can easily add “run command’ in “taskbar & start menu properties”. I still use it all the time.

  6. Allen

    @Arston. The start menu search doesn’t find everything. Go to it and type in control userpasswors2. It doesn’t work. Go to run and it does.

  7. Paul

    @Arston. The run menu keeps a history of previous commands, including the parameters entered. I find this useful when using commands like mstsc with long parameters.

  8. john q

    I use the free version of ObjectDock. It stays hidden until my mouse touches the bottom of the monitor and I just click on the programs I dropped there. It mimicks the Mac in a way, but whatever. I don’t want to type a shortcut key or go clicking around in shortcut launchers.

  9. Arston

    @Allen @Paul
    Thanks for the clarification on this.

    I still prefer the custom shortcuts I have with AHK in combination with Win+1, 2, 3… to open my programs. Very rarely use the mouse to open one.

  10. john3347

    Some of us don’t need ANY shortcut to Firefox. HTG is getting more and more useless with tips on junk like Windows 8, Firefox anything, Internet Explorer 10 etc.

  11. jeorgekabbi

    i use autohotkey( ) to make all sort of jumpo mumpo stuff with shortcut keys.

  12. Meena Bassem
  13. Scott

    I prefer to use Quicklaunch. Disabled with Win 7, but easily restored.

    Start menu as a bucket for important programs, taskbar for 2-3 favorite apps, and QuickLaunch for my work-related folders and applications.

  14. Palooza

    @negative-john3347 Why do you continue to read the articles if they are so useless?

  15. PhylisSophical

    to john3347:
    Perhaps there are people who are not quite as brilliant as you and find these tips very useful. I imagine they use Fire Fox et al as examples because they are the most commonly used. That said, I’ve been using Launchy for years as recommended here. Excellent program.
    I also use the Run box as it keeps a history such as ‘msconfig’. Win7 Search does not.

  16. Mike

    I use a vertical task bar with QuickLaunch at the top – loaded with small icons. Pinning apps wastes too much space. I don’t understand why people don’t put the taskbar on the side. Screens are so wide that it seems like the obvious place to put it.

  17. LadyFitzgerald

    I never use the desktop to launch programs from; all those icons are a huge waste of screen real estate I can put to far better use, such as parking a plethora of virtual sticky notes, a desktop calendar, and a tempory parking place for files and folders I’m still processing (impossible to ignore or forget since they are in my face everytime I boot up). In XP, I use the Quick Launch menu and in Win7, the taskbar (essentially the same thing) for the eight programs I use most frequently. Those ten and another dozen are pinned to the Start Menu. The others I use so infrequently, it’s not worth wasting screen real estate on, especially since it takes only a few seconds to find them in All Programs in the Start Menu. I also have a folder pinned to the taskbar in Win7 that has links to my diagnostic programs that I use to run weekly scans.

    I never use keyboard shortcuts because there is no way on Earth (and below) I would ever remember them. Using the mouse is far faster for me than using the keyboard anyway.

  18. LadyFitzgerald

    @ Mike. I tried pinning the taskbar to the side of the screen but didn’t like it. It doesn’t have as much room for pinned programs and just felt too intrusive, even though I keep it hidden.

  19. BeteB

    I was just going to download Launchy (it sounds great and it sounds like it would also search my Favorites) but my McAfee put up a big screen telling me not to download it, that it may contain viruses, malware, etc.

  20. Kevalin

    RocketDock. Looks cool, launches programs, keeps desktop tidy.

  21. dragonduder

    “I was just going to download Launchy (it sounds great and it sounds like it would also search my Favorites) but my McAfee put up a big screen telling me not to download it, that it may contain viruses, malware, etc.”

    False positive, I promise. If you don’t believe it, upload the downloaded file to

    Not that I’m a big fan of Launchy, I just know a lot of good problems are being doodied on because some anti-virus thinks it’s evil.

  22. anndtman

    @BeteB- I dumped McAfee for numerous reasons, that was one of them.

  23. AJ

    +1 @ Kevalin ………..Rocket Dock, Rocks !!! Neat And Simple, All the way :) …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

  24. Dic


    Your Ladyship, the task bar never ‘fills up’, you can load as many programmes to it as you like. When you fill one column/row, it will add another the next time you request a pin. You may access the extension by clicking the toggling button at the bottom/side of the bar. In order to keep ’em all on one row/column, you might want to reduce the size of the icons, if you haven’t done so already.

  25. hellerdude

    I have used Executor for a couple of years now.

  26. Koos

    I used to use Launchy but had some problems on 64-bit systems. Recently I found Executor that works more or less the same way. Works great for me. And its free!!!

  27. Keith

    I swear by SlickRun and Ahk.

    One is powerful enough. Two of them let me control things as I please. Without them, on someone else’s computer, it’s like my hands are tied and I’m blindfolded.

  28. HBBourne

    There’s no right or wrong answer here. I used ObjectDock for a long time, until I found Launchy which I find more efficient. Screw everyone’s opinion; if it works for you, roll with it!

  29. PackMule64

    I love Krento, middle click of the mouse wheel and up pops a circle with the programs or folders that I have placed there. It is neat, customizable as far as size of rings and icons etc. It takes a little playing with it to get it to the shape and size I like but once done there it is. It pops up the circle where ever your mouse pointer is when you middle click. There are other options for starting it than middle click.

  30. afuhnk

    Search & Indexing being disabled on my pc, I don’t use the “Search” feature.
    “Run” works great.


  31. r

    o.k…, I tried Rocket Dock, messed around with it for about five minutes & then uninstalled it.
    It’s nice but it reminds me too much of the OSX dock -just can’t have that sort of thing on my PC desktop.

  32. max

    I just pin oft-used programs to the Taskbar, and also enable the old Quick Launch toolbar in Windows 7. One click of the mouse and a program is opened. Easy.

  33. max

    @Arston – You can run programs but not commands from the Start Menu.

  34. beebee

    I have Dial-up, slow, slow, I have Windows 7 Premium. It is so slow, my free subscription (through my ISP) to Webroot, times out before it installs, could you give me some kind of of virus protection, that will keep me half safe, until I get out of the boondocks. What is Virus total? Will Launchy, SyncToy, and all the rest of the good work with Dial-Up? Thank you! Love this site!

  35. spike

    sweet tips, thanks

  36. rickm1945

    I rarely use Windows, Ubuntu for me.

  37. LadyFitzgerald

    @ Dic. I’m aware it will add more rows but I’m too crazy abou the extra screen real estate it eats up when that happens. I’ve always used small icons; I’m not a fan of icons because I can’t always recognize what the heck they represent (old age and having ADHD doesn’t help) so I resent any extra screen real estate they eat up.

    I have been rethinking having the task bar on the left side of the screen ever since I saw it suggested in this thread (I relocated it from the bottom shortly affter my previous post to experiment more with it). I’ve been using Win7 only since late June when I got my new notebook (my desktop is still XP and will be until I replace the machine late this year or sometime next year) so I’m still learning little tricks with it. In XP, I always used the taskbar on the bottom and set it to auto hide. Even when I ditched the CRT and got a 22″ widescreen LCD, I kept it that way out of habit. The one annoyance was whenever I overshot the mouse pointer when going for a button at the bottom (which was frequently, even with a slowed down mouse; I should have broken its little legs). It was worse when I switched the task bar to the left side (I even tried the right side; that was, like, yikes!).

    It dawned on me today (remember, I’m old, etc.) to shut off auto hide. I had to resize some of my default windows but that didn’t take long and was a one time thing (the tip for making custom shortcuts helped with that since I didn’t know until then that there was a way to lock in whether a window opens maximized or minimized). I lost a bit of usable screen real estate for my two data base programs (calibre and Media Monkey) but I was able to fudge column widths a bit to compensate for that (once I get a Win7 desktop machine, I’ll have all the screen width I could ever want on my 22″ monitor). The only time I find having the taskbar unhidden to be a problem is when running a visualization in Media Monkey (using full screen would fix that but it’s not working right…yet; I’m still learning how to use the program).

    I’ve also found out that I can set the task bar to combine multiple buttons into one when they threaten to overflow the taskbar. That will be handy when I have multiple programs open, such as Word docs open (although, if running two docs and I will be switching back and forth frequently, I snap each one to a side of the screen; I love Mr. Aero and his Snap and even used a version of it on my XP machines).

    All that should pretty much take care of the lack of program room complaint.

  38. LadyFitzgerald

    @ beebee. If you ask your question in a new post over in the forums (see top of page), you will have a better chance at getting an answer to your questions.

  39. Ron

    @ Mike-I accidentally started using vertical Taskbar about 6 months ago. I decided to try it awhile before switching back.
    First thing I noticed was smoothness of web pages flowing to bottom of screen like waves on a beach.
    Next was the naturalism of focusing my eyes & mouse on top left corner. Just like I was taught to read. This also forced my start menu to popout going down & to the right.
    I also like keeping a clear desktop so I hide the shortcut icons and use Desktop toolbar instead. Plus 3 custom toolbars which looks like 4 drawers on a file cabinet with labels now.

  40. Ron

    @john3347-Some of us don’t need ANY shortcut to Firefox. HTG is getting more and more useless with tips on junk like Windows 8, Firefox anything, Internet Explorer 10 etc.

    Please share what you know of greater value to us.
    Some of us know nothing about computers yet, some of us know a lot about computers and still learning. There’s even a couple people who know EVERYTHING about computers.

  41. Ron

    my favorite has come to be the “Custom Shortcut Key” method. In particular Ctrl+Alt+Shift+ (A-Z or 0-9)
    At first the 3 key combination was awkward but now, all 3 keys are held down with only the index finger of left hand. I tip my hat and give credit to Rand Rants SharpKeys 3.5

    Because of his program
    my left Windows key is now my left Alt key
    my left Alt key is now my left Caps Lock key
    my left Caps Lock key is now my left Enter key
    my tilde key~ is now my left Delete key (Alt+0126 = ~)

    Besides the shortcut function, having left & right keys for Delete Enter saves a lot of time.

    Ctrl+Alt+Shift+1 = Custom Shortcut List (for when I forgot a shortcut)
    grouping together helps
    Ctrl+Alt+Shift+I = Internet Explorer
    Ctrl+Alt+Shift+j = Firefox
    Ctrl+Alt+Shift+k = Opera
    Ctrl+Alt+Shift+m = MagicJack
    Ctrl+Alt+Shift+n = Notepad

  42. Ron

    @beebee- I have Dial-up, slow, slow, I have Windows 7 Premium. It is so slow, my free subscription (through my ISP) to Webroot, times out before it installs, could you give me some kind of of virus protection, that will keep me half safe, until I get out of the boondocks. What is Virus total? Will Launchy, SyncToy, and all the rest of the good work with Dial-Up? Thank you! Love this site!

    Have you tried dicks the Connection tab in Interest Options ad adjusting your timeout from there?
    Its been a long time since dialup for me but I seem to recall adjusting it there

  43. Dave

    Of course, these tips are revealed when Windows 8 is upon us! Learning techniques to ancient OS!!! jk

  44. McStud

    IMO, Free launch-bar is the best third party alternative to any version of windows’ taskbar. You can change size of icons, spacing b/w icons, choose how many menus to show from an extended menu, change your icons to whatever you wish, etc.

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