I've been playing around with different ways to launch files in Windows Vista and I think that I've finally found one that I really like.
In the past I've played with just about every third party launcher under the sun and I'm just tired of having to add something to a system just to launch files. I also want speed and screen real estate. I tend to go through phases of program use. I use sets of programs for a while and then my work changes and I use different sets for a while.
I've used the Quicklaunch bar quite a bit in the past but to really use it right, you have to expand the task bar and make it taller. That steals screen which is a real problem on a UMPC and can be a problem on wide screens.
Recently I was playing with Speed Launch from Microsoft Office Labs. Speed Launch didn't quite fit the bill for me but it made me want to find a fast way to launch apps. Launchy gets a lot of love from folks, but I wanted more control over specific shortcuts than Launchy provides.
What I finally ended up with came from the Download Squad. I created a folder called shortcuts and dragged shortcuts to the apps I wanted into that folder. Then I renamed the shortcuts with short names. Firefox became ff, etc. This makes it really easy to add new shortcuts.
Then I added the shortcut folder as an environment path in windows. Don't worry this is easy, the Download Squad site shows you how.
After this comes the things the download squad missed. You can now run these shortcuts from the search bar in Vista as well as from the Run box. For Firefox, I hit the Windows key and type ff. It's faster than trying to find the Firefox icon. Outlook becomes Win Key + out. Also, you can create multiple shortcuts to the same file I you think you might remember it different ways. So Firefox could have shortcuts for FF, Fox and Firefox. Somedays my brain works differently so I make the computer accommodate my brain.
The nice part is that if you have multiple machines and you install everything in their default folders like I do, the shortcut list is portable. Simply copy it to other machines and set the environment path once.
If you don't want to set an environment path you can build the shortcuts in the system32 folder but that's not as flexible.
If you turn on Search Favorites (Taskbar->Properties->Start Menu->Customize->Search Favorites and history) you can also launch IE favorites. The cool part is that they launch in whatever your default browser is, not necessarily IE. The downside is that it doesn't find Firefox shortcuts.
The only other negative is that some things override your shortcut. For example, I have a shortcut to Google reader called reader. But when I type reader in the search bar, it launches acrobat reader. I've renamed my shortcut to greader and it works fine but I'm wondering if placing my shortcut path first will solve that.
Anyway, this is making for very fast launches and if I ever forget what I named a shortcut, I actually have a shortcut called "shortcuts" that leads to my shortcuts folder.