Whenever any major motion picture has a “hacker” character, they always show the actor violently typing on their custom interface and causing all kinds of programs to pop up just from their keystrokes. Now, I’m no hacker to be sure, but I do like the ability to access any program or file at the touch of a key. A utility that does just this is called a “launcher” and makes the process of finding and opening things on your computer easier than navigating through a bunch of windows. In the past I have tried Launchy and RocketDock, but neither of them have completely satisfied me.
Recently I have come across Enso Launcher from the “Enso” family of programs over at Humanized.com. All of their creations are built with their human users in mind. For this reason, Enso Launcher has a very natural feel and operates rather intuitively. If you’ve ever used a program and forgotten how to access one of its functions because it requires an obscure command, you’ll definitely appreciate Enso Launcher. Also, like the other programs mentioned above, it’s free.
The principle of the program is this: Hold down a key, type the first part of a command, and release the keys to trigger the command. In this case, the Caps Lock key is the command key (which frankly is the first use I’ve ever had for it) and all the other keys can be used for command entry. The system is described as “quasi-modal” because instead of a box popping up, Enso Launcher is only visible when an action is taking place. The Humanized people seem to think this kind of interface is less error-prone, but I personally don’t notice it being better or worse than a “modal” interface like Launchy, which uses a static box on the screen.
The most common use for the launcher is to…well, launch things: programs specifically. To do so, you hold down the Caps Lock key, type “open,” and then begin typing the name of the program you wish to launch. After a few characters, Enso Launcher will try to auto-complete the name of the program from ones you regularly use. Usually it gets it right on the first try. As soon as it has the right program up, letting go of the keys is equivalent to hitting “Enter.” This does lead to some early hesitation about selecting the right item, but I found I got used to it quite quickly.
There are more commands than just “open,” though. Enso Launcher has a learning component to it. First of all, when you are typing the name of the program you want to access, it will identify it from any point in the name. For example, “Mozilla Firefox” can just be searched for as “Firefox,” because it will recognize the second word in the name.
Also, the command “learn as open” allows you to click on and highlight any file, folder, or web address and give it a nickname. Typing “learn as open makeuseof” with “http://www.MakeUseOf.com” highlighted in your address bar will teach it to open Make Use Of whenever you say “open makeuseof.”
There are a few other commands that I found useful. “Open with” opens a selected file with the program of your choice. This is good for opening images with a photo editor like Gimp instead of a photo viewer like IrFanView. “Unlearn” reverses a “learn as open” command if you mess it up or want to change it.
Here are the ones that you’ll probably use the most:
- open – opens a typed program (not a selected file though)
- open with – opens a selected file with typed program
- learn as open – creates a new command
- unlearn – forgets a created command
- go – cycles through open programs
- minimize – minimizes the active window
- maximize – maximizes the active window
- unmaximize – unmaximizes the active window
- close – closes the active program (not a typed program)
- quit – quits the active program (not a typed program)
There is a, or you can type “help” or “command list” in Enso Launcher, once you have it installed. The more advanced commands include: “copy,” “paste,” “calculate,” and the always useful “google” command, which searches Google on a new browser window.
A handy tip:
Once the name of a longer command like “open with” or “learn as open” appears, hitting the Enter key will fill in that command and allow for typing of the desired program. This greatly speeds up these kinds of commands.
Since Enso Launcher runs in the background, almost anybody can install it and play around with it. If you don’t use it, you won’t even know it’s there. I have been surprised at how many little tasks I do that can be replaced by commands on the launcher. You can bring up programs that don’t have shortcuts on your desktop with the “open” command. You can open your favorite websites without having to open your browser and hunt through your bookmarks first. It can really speed up the way you get around your computer.
There is only one crowd for which this launcher is a hard sell: heavy Caps Lock users. Since the Caps Lock key is the “command” key in Enso Launcher, the regular “ALL CAPS” function of the key is always disabled. This can be toggled by the “capslock on” and “capslock off” commands, but generally speaking, you won’t be able to type in “ALL CAPS” as easily. Well, not without severely abusing your Shift key anyway.
To sum it all up, Enso Launcher is a new and interesting way to browse your computer. It may even replace hotkeys you learned from childhood (Caps Lock + P for “Paste” is faster than Ctrl + V). It requires a bit of time to learn your specific files and programs, but overall Enso Launcher is a great tool to add to the arsenal of anyone who wants to feel a bit more like a hacker.