Thursday, July 02, 2009

How to launch programs using only 3 keys

a tip for Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP

One nice thing about Windows is that there are plenty of ways to launch applications. The most common way would be to click on the green Start button and look around for what you want to run.

There is another way to use the Start button that many people either don't know about or have long forgotten. You can open the Start menu from your keyboard using the fancy key with the Windows logo on it. This key is often called the "Windows" key.

Why would you want to start using the Windows key? The one word answer is ... SPEED.

I've set up my work PC so that I can launch any one of 36 different apps using only three keys. My fingers never have to leave the keyboard and in most cases I don't struggle to remember what keys I need to hit.

Here's how to set up your own three key speed launcher.

1. First, you'll have to start using the Classic Start menu if you aren't already. Just right click on the Start button and choose properties. Then choose the Classic radio button.

2. Open up your Start menu for editing by right clicking on the Start button and choosing Explore.

3. Add your own special launch folder. I've named mine "xLinks" but you can use any name as long as you start it with a letter that doesn't already appear as the leading letter for some other menu item.

4. Open your new launch folder and start adding and creating your shortcuts in it. Here's an example of some of the shortcuts I've added to mine. Notice that all of the shortcut names each start with a unique letter of the alphabet or the numbers 0 through 9. This allows you to have 36 unique shortcuts.

5. You are essentially done once you've added shortcuts into the launch folder. The only question remaining is how they can be used. Here's what I see when I hit the Windows key then X.

If I hit one more key, I'll launch the corresponding shortcut in that menu. For example, if I had hit the Windows key then X then P, I would have launched my Windows Paint program. I can hit these key combinations fast enough that you can barely see the menus flash up. Most users would have still been reaching for the mouse while I was opening my application.

I've found that it's a great way to impress folks looking over my shoulder. They'll often ask what I'd just done. If I feel like being cryptic that day, I just say "It's magic!".


  1. OR
    you can just download AutoHotKeys, and simply add any shortcut key you might even think of to any shortcut, exeactuable, url or any other file.
    that simple. and except for that, it can do a lot of other cool stuff.

  2. Thanks Yrufset. I have used AHK in the past and I presently use Texter from Lifehacker which was written using AHK. There are also a bunch of neat AHK scripts and exe's at

  3. Hi Clif.

    Thanks for sharing this three button short cut. I will using this for my most used programs.

    El Tel (UK)

  4. You are very welcome El Tel. Thanks for dropping by.

  5. Hi Clif,

    My favorite, next to the Ctrl + A, Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V (select, copy and paste - with the pinky on the Ctrl and the index hitting the A, C and V).

    And... I appreciate it so much that you are still taking time to bring out newsletters. On a monthly basis, that's fine by me. If you need more time, that's OK. As long as you stay in our midst as our critically acclaimed computer guru, our internet whizz.

    Thanks for all the good work you've done for me (us).

    Take care,
    Tom from Holland

  6. Thanks for the vote of confidence Tom.