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Posted 3 Mar 2007

Quick Application Launch Utility

, 3 Mar 2007
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This Windows utility enables you to launch applications simply by typing their name or part of it. It saves you the need to search for it in the hierarchical 'Start-->All-Programs' menus or to create a big ‘Quick Launch’ folder in your task bar.


If you have a lot of applications installed on your computer your "start->All Programs->.." folder is probably packed with all sorts of links. Searching for a particular application to start may not be a pleasant experience when you don't really remember the path to the application or when the folder contains too many links.

Wouldn't it be great if you could just type the name of the application (or part of it) and have the computer provide you with all the apps matching that name and then in one key-press launch it?

This small 'Starter' application does just that. It works in Windows XP and uses the .NET 2.0 Framework.

Type the application name or part of it and press enter:

Screenshot - image001.jpg

Now select the application you want to run from the filtered matching list using the up/down arrows and hit enter to launch it:

Screenshot - image002.jpg

Note that Windows Vista provides similar functionality in its core operating system start menu. Now we can do it in Windows XP as well.

Configuration Options

Right click the icon to the left of the combo box to open the context menu. Then select Advanced Settings in order to view the Settings form.
Additional customization can be made here, e.g. indicating the folder where you would seek the shortcut file.

Screenshot - image004.jpg

Recommendation: Configure Starter to Always Popup on Alt+Cntl+L

The 'Starter' is a single instance application. If someone attempts to start a new instance of the Starter application while another instance already exists, the focus will shift to the existing 'Starter' application without creating a new instance.
It helps a lot to create a shortcut to the starter application and assign a keyboard key to it (I used Alt+Cntl+L), so that whatever you do with your computer you can always enter Alt+Cntl+L and have the focus switched to the starter application.

Screenshot - image003.jpg

Before I had this application, I used the 'Quick Launch' Toolbar extensively, but since I have this program I removed the Quick Launch shortcuts and am only using this tool to launch my applications. It is quicker, and my taskbar area is cleaner and better utilized.

How Does It Work?

Upon startup, the application scans all shortcut (*.lnk) file names and attributes under the Start --> All Program menu. It will also lookup shortcut files in other folders specified in the custom configuration section (as mentioned in the configuration options section). The shortcut file names and attributes are stored in a DataTable object. A DataView object is used to filter the content based on the user input.

When the user types a string in the combo box and hits the Enter key, the combo box is populated with all the program files that contain this string. If the user hits Enter while a selected application is highlighted the application will be launched. So just type the application name (or part of it), hit enter to get the list of matching applications and enter again to launch the application you want. Easy.

The application is a very small form with no borders and it is configured by default to be Top-most located in the upper right corner (just below a title bar of a potential maximized window). You can move the application by dragging its left icon. To view additional options, right-click the left icon and a popup menu shows.

The code segment for seeking and storing the shortcut file names is as follows:

private void ProcessFolder(string folderName) {
   if (!System.IO.Directory.Exists(folderName))
   DirectoryInfo d = new DirectoryInfo(folderName);
   foreach (FileInfo f in d.GetFiles()) {
      if (f.Extension.ToLower() == ".lnk")
   foreach (DirectoryInfo di in d.GetDirectories())

private void ProcessShortcutFile(FileInfo f) {
   FileInfo fi;
   if (System.IO.File.Exists(f.FullName)) {
      WshShortcut theShortcut = (WshShortcut)theShell.CreateShortcut(f.FullName); 
      if (System.IO.File.Exists(theShortcut.TargetPath)) {
         fi = new FileInfo(theShortcut.TargetPath);
         if (mExtentions.Contains(fi.Extension.ToLower())) {
            string name;
            name = f.Name.Substring(0, f.Name.Length - 4);
            if (name.Contains("Shortcut to ")) {
               if (name.IndexOf("Shortcut to ") == 0) {
                  name = name.Replace("Shortcut to ", "");

            mRowArgs[0] = name;
            mRowArgs[1] = ReplaceEnvVar(theShortcut.TargetPath);
            mRowArgs[2] = ReplaceEnvVar(theShortcut.WorkingDirectory);
            mRowArgs[3] = theShortcut.Arguments;
            mRowArgs[4] = ReplaceEnvVar(theShortcut.IconLocation);
            mRowArgs[5] = ReplaceEnvVar(f.FullName);

            if (mRowArgs[4].Split(',')[0] == "") {
               mRowArgs[4] = mRowArgs[1] + mRowArgs[4];

            if (Properties.Settings.Default.SelectDistinctShortcutFiles) {
               if (!mAllTargetFilesAndArguments.Contains(mRowArgs[1] + 
		" " + mRowArgs[3])) {
                  mAllTargetFilesAndArguments.Add(mRowArgs[1] + " " + mRowArgs[3]);
            } else {

Scanning the Shortcut Files

I'm using the DirectoryInfo and FileInfo classes in the System.IO namespace to iterate through all the shortcut files within the specified folders. Then I'm using the WshShortcut COM object to get the TargetPath, Arguments, WorkingDirectory, and IconLocation properties of the shortcut file. If you know of a pure .NET object I could use to gather the information in the shortcut file, please let me know.

Extracting the Icons from the Applications

The started application uses an owner drawn combo box that shows the icons of the applications along with their shortcut file names. To extract the Icons from the applications, I'm using the IconExtractor class which in turn uses the ExtractIconExW from the Shell32.dll.

Populating the List-box

When the user enters a string (3 characters long at least) and then presses Enter, the PopulateComboItems() method is called. Then the DataView gets filtered and returned to the MainForm.

Here are the relevant code segments. cmb is the ComboBox object. dvComboDataSource is the DataView object.

private void PopulateComboItems() {
   dvComboDataSource = sStartApps.GetMatchingLinks(cmb.Text);
   cmb.DataSource = dvComboDataSource;
   cmb.DisplayMember = "ShortcutName";

Here is the method which retrieves the filtered DataView:

public DataView GetMatchingLinks(string s) {
   s = s.Trim();
   if (s.Length > 2) {
      mDataView.RowFilter = @"ShortcutName like '%" + s + @"%'";
      return mDataView;
   } else {
      return null;

Launching the Application

When the user hits Enter upon selected list box item, the cmb_KeyDown event is responsible for detecting the Enter key and launching the appropriate application based on the dvComboDataSource object.

void cmb_KeyDown(object sender, System.Windows.Forms.KeyEventArgs e) {
   switch (e.KeyCode) {
      case Keys.Enter:
         if (cmb.SelectedIndex >= 0) {
            //Start the application
            cmb.Cursor = System.Windows.Forms.Cursors.AppStarting;
            e.SuppressKeyPress = true;
            p.BackColor = Color.LightGreen;


            cmb.Cursor = System.Windows.Forms.Cursors.Default;
         } else {
            //Search for matching applications and 
            //show them in the combo box
            . . . 
            . . . 
            . . . 

private string SelectedItem(string itemName) {
   return ((DataRowView)cmb.SelectedItem)[itemName].ToString();

Starter is a Single Instance Application

The code below checks all the system processors upon the Starter application startup. If another instance of the Starter application is already running, then it just switches to it. We use the AppActivate() method of the WshShellClass COM object.

static void Main() {
   System.Diagnostics.Process p;
   if (OtherInstanceExists(out p)) {
      //Switching to a running instance of the application... 
      IWshRuntimeLibrary.WshShellClass shell = 
         new IWshRuntimeLibrary.WshShellClass();
      object p1 = (object)p.Id;
      object p2 = (object)null;
      shell.AppActivate(ref p1, ref p2);
   } else {
      Application.Run(new MainForm());

static bool OtherInstanceExists(out Process proc) {
   Process[] p = Process.GetProcessesByName(
   proc = null;
   if (p.Length > 0) {
      //first check this is not the current process
      if (p.Length == 1) {
         if (p[0].Id==Process.GetCurrentProcess().Id) {
            return false;
         } else {
            proc = p[0];
            return true;
      } else {
         foreach (Process pr in p) {
            if (pr.Id != Process.GetCurrentProcess().Id) {
               proc = pr;
         return true;
   } else {
      return false;


  • Shortcut files which point to URLs (*.url) are not added to the DataTable. If you want to have URLs included, just add a shortcut for Internet Explorer and provide the URL you're interested in as its argument.
  • The application uses COM interop for three types of operations:
    1. Evaluating the content of the shortcut files (what is the target file, working directory, arguments, etc.) 
    2. Making Starter a single instance application 
    3. Extracting Icons from the target files.
      If you know a pure .NET way of doing any one of these tasks, please let me know.
  • The search string must be at least 3 characters long or else no search results will be returned.


  • 3rd March, 2007: Initial post


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)


About the Author

Michael Elly
United States United States
No Biography provided

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Comments and Discussions

Questioncompile errors Pin
Barrywl1-Jun-14 5:03
memberBarrywl1-Jun-14 5:03 
Questioncompile errors Pin
Barrywl1-Jun-14 5:01
memberBarrywl1-Jun-14 5:01 
GeneralMy vote of 1 Pin
HyperThreader29-Apr-11 3:10
memberHyperThreader29-Apr-11 3:10 
QuestionWhat about bookmarks? Pin
Knusperkeks6-Mar-07 22:13
memberKnusperkeks6-Mar-07 22:13 
AnswerRe: What about bookmarks? Pin
Michael Elly8-Mar-07 23:08
memberMichael Elly8-Mar-07 23:08 
AnswerRe: What about bookmarks? Pin
Michael Elly2-Sep-08 10:09
memberMichael Elly2-Sep-08 10:09 
GeneralDesktop Folder Pin
Doncp5-Mar-07 7:18
memberDoncp5-Mar-07 7:18 
GeneralManifest signing error Pin
Doncp4-Mar-07 8:34
memberDoncp4-Mar-07 8:34 
GeneralRe: Manifest signing error Pin
Michael Elly4-Mar-07 9:18
memberMichael Elly4-Mar-07 9:18 
GeneralNice concept but it doesn't work for me. Pin
smesser4-Mar-07 5:19
membersmesser4-Mar-07 5:19 
AnswerRe: Nice concept but it doesn't work for me. Pin
Michael Elly4-Mar-07 8:28
memberMichael Elly4-Mar-07 8:28 
GeneralRe: Nice concept but it doesn't work for me. Pin
smesser4-Mar-07 11:02
membersmesser4-Mar-07 11:02 
GeneralRe: Nice concept but it doesn't work for me. Pin
smesser4-Mar-07 11:19
membersmesser4-Mar-07 11:19 
GeneralRe: Nice concept but it doesn't work for me. Pin
smesser4-Mar-07 18:35
membersmesser4-Mar-07 18:35 
GeneralRe: Nice concept but it doesn't work for me. Pin
Michael Elly8-Mar-07 23:13
memberMichael Elly8-Mar-07 23:13 

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