Boost your productivity with the best Windows launchers for 2021
Using a launcher to quickly open programs and files is a great way to save time and boost your productivity. Every time you use one shaves off just a few seconds, but it adds up.
There’s no shortage of launchers for Windows, but looking through the blogosphere I noticed many old or even discontinued apps. It was about time for an update of what’s still useful in 2021.
This post presents the newest launchers as well as older ones. This way you can pick the right launcher for you and get started saving time rightaway.
Let’s get a quick overview and then jump right into the apps!
The New Generation (5)
These 5launchers are the latest-and-greatest. I recommend trying them to boost your productivity.
Old But Maintained (5)
These next apps are getting a bit old, but they still work and some of them are quite popular.
The final 14 apps are either very outdated or even discontinued, although they’re still mentioned around in the internet. I’d recommend passing on these apps in favor of more up-to-date apps.
The New Generation
The following four apps are new to the search-style launcher apps space. All of them are compatible with Windows 10 and 11, and they’re our go-to options in 2021.
Windows 11 native launcher
Windows launcher apps were originally created to compensate for missing functionality in Windows OS. It would be unfair not to mention that Windows 11 has made a significant progress with its new Start Menu — even though not everyone is happy with it.
In Windows 11 you can press the
Windows key to call up a search bar with launcher-like capabilities. It lets you search documents on your computer and Microsoft accounts, installed apps, and the web.
- Fast and natively integrated in Windows
Doesn’t search non-Microsoft cloud accounts (Gmail, Dropbox, Slack, etc.)
You need to upgrade your entire OS
Often opens a Bing-search instead of the app or document you need
Cost: Free with Windows 11
Curiosity is a productivity tool that doubles as a launcher, search tool, and more.
The main advantage of Curiosity is that it gives you one place to access everything on your computer as well as in your cloud apps (Gmail, Dropbox, etc.). It also helps automatically organize your emails, launch apps, do calculations, and more.
You can use the configurable
Alt+Space shortcut (macOS:
Option + Space) to open the app’s command bar, and then search from there or open the full app for more filters and options. Curiosity is available for individuals with a version for teams coming soon.
Access things on your computer and cloud apps (Slack, Google Drive etc.)
Launch programs, see your next calendar even, do calculations and more
Searches in the content of files, including images using OCR
Keeps your data safe on your computer
Limited (but growing) number of integrations for cloud apps
File content search can take a while to finish (but it’s optional)
Cost: Free version, Pro version for 9.99€/month
Disclaimer: We’re the makers of Curiosity
Command E is a search and launcher app. It uses a command-bar-style interface to let you interact with the information on your computer and in your cloud apps.
Command E is fast and well-designed, and it keeps your information on your computer. It can search file names, not their contents, which limits the quality of results (except for some apps like Gmail and Google Docs).
You can Command E search bar with the eponymous keystroke
Command + E.
Provides access to things on your computer and cloud apps
Keeps your data safe on your computer
Fast and well designed
- Searches only in file names (not content)
Cost: Free for individuals, Company pricing coming soon
Slapdash aims to be an entry point into work whether it’s on your computer or in cloud apps. It doubles as a launcher and search system.
Slapdash’s biggest advantage is that it has lots of integrations for cloud apps. However, like you can only find files if you know what they’re called. In addition, Slapdash copies all of your data to their cloud (including your email and messages), which might be a concern for some users and companies.
Access information on your computer and cloud apps
Lots of integrations with cloud apps
Searches only in file names, not content
Needs to access to all your data on their cloud
Cost: Free limited version, Pro and Teams version for 12$/month (unlimited sources, additional features)
[Microsoft PowerToys](http://Microsoft PowerToys is a set of utilities for power users to tune and streamline their Windows 10 experience for greater productivity.) is a set of utilities aimed at Windows power-users. One of them is PowerToys Run, a search-style launcher.
PowerToys Run lets you search for applications, folders and files. It also lets you search for running processes, perform actions like locking the computer, and includes a simple calculator.
- Free with Windows and supported by Microsoft
No cloud apps (Dropbox, Gmail, etc.)
No advanced search functionality (filters etc.)
Old But Maintained
The next five apps are older, though they are still maintained.
The biggest difference to the newer apps is that they don’t handle cloud apps like Dropbox, Slack, or Gmail (some exceptions if you’re willing to dig into installing plug-ins).
It is not clear which of these will be compatible with Windows 11.
Everything is a well-known free search tool. It’s strengths are fast indexing and features like batch-renaming for file names. However, the user interface is a bit dated and the complex search syntax can take some getting used to.
Executor is a lightweight launcher that focuses heavily on keyboard interactions. Its advantages are that it’s lightweight, fast, and free. Whether they outweigh the lack of cloud apps and a steep learning curve for complicated key combinations is a matter of taste.
Keybreeze is a free, search-style free launcher. It’s open-source and includes additional functionality like sticky notes. On the flip-side, commands need to be set up manually and it doesn’t handle cloud apps.
Listary is slightly different than the other apps in that it integrates with Windows Explorer. It offers fast search with customizable commands. However, those customizations require some up-front investment. In addition, it’s unclear whether it’s actively supported (V6 has been in beta since 2018).
Cost: Free, Pro version 19.99$ (one-off)
Keypiranha is another open-source, heavily keyboard-oriented launcher. It lets you launch files and apps, and it’s small and fast. However, it’s also limited to what’s on your computer (no cloud apps), and the keyboard shortcuts take some practice.
The final group of apps are ones that I kept running across in blog posts, but that appear to be very old or even discontinued. Obviously, people will have their own preferences, but personally I would not recommend spending time on these apps.
These five apps are mouse-based launchers. They offer a place to put program shortcuts that tries to replicate the Mac-Style Dock. They were mainly built for Windows Vista, and Microsoft’s updates to the task bar and search menus have made them largely redundant.
Winstep Nexus Dock (free, paid version for $14.95)
ObjectDock (free, paid upgrade available)
Rocket Dock (free)
Circle Dock (free)
Discontinued open-source projects
The next five apps are all free, open-source projects. Judging by the last updates, they are no longer actively maintained.
Launchy (last update 2010, though there’s a recent release for Android)
Hain (last update 2019)
Wox (last update 2018)
Jarvis (last update 2019)
RK Launcher (only available on Web Archive)
The final group contains five apps that were mentioned in blogs about launchers, but that as far as I can tell are either very outdated or discontinued.
XWindows Dock: Dock-style launcher
7Stacks: Dock-style launcher for Windows XP
Appetizer: Dock-style launcher; website last updated 2013
InerziaSmartLaunch: Couldn’t find any up-to-date information
I hope this overview of Windows launchers will help you pick the right one for you. I also hope it will save you time by pre-sorting the apps you’ll find on the internet.
Let me know if I missed any, or if you have additional thoughts!