A desktop computer monitor sitting on top of a desk

When I use Linux, I’m either using KDE, Gnome or xfce (three common, but functionally and aesthetically different desktop environments). I use Gnome most of the time, but have always liked xfce (and KDE). One of the things I really like about it is that no matter where I am on the desktop, all I need to do is right click with my mouse anywhere on the desktop and I get a menu showing all my applications, with immediate access to the preference area as well.

Gnome has similar access, but through the menu bar. And with Gnome, I also get access to my hard drives and bookmarked folders. The only difference is that with xfce, I can click right where I am, without needing to move, as opposed to scrolling to the correct menu entry. The xfce way just feels more efficient to me.

In Mac OS X, there’s really nothing similar, but thanks to a shareware utility (costing nineteen dollars), called Application Wizard, this feature is both accessible and easy to use. Maybe not exactly the same as either xfce’s implementation or Gnome’s way, but still a step up from what’s included with OS X.

Application Wizard is a bit different than other application launchers I typically use, in that it’s always visible. I like Quicksilver, which is keyboard-based. Just hit the keyboard combination of your choosing, and up pops a window. Now start typing the name of the application you want to launch, and Quicksilver scans its database and presents all the matches. When you see the one you want, scroll to it and hit enter. Quicksilver is nice, and probably won’t be replaced by Application Wizard, but that’s a lot of steps.

Application Wizard does involve a bit of mousing around the screen, but once you get to know and understand how it works, I think it’s very efficient and quite simple to use. If you take a look at the screen shots, you’ll notice a row of four colored buttons, just on the left edge of the screen. Those four buttons are the entire visible interface to Application Wizard. As you can probably see, even though it’s always visible, it’s easy to place it out of the way, on any edge of the screen you want. You can also choose to have it reside in your Menu Bar, which puts it completely out of the way, and ensures that nothing will cover it and that it will never cover (even slightly), anything you want to view.

Each of the four colored dots serves a different purpose. Hit the top button (the blue one), and up will pop a menu showing all the items in your Mac’s Dock, as well as all the recently-launched applications. It also provides immediate access to both your applications and each individual preference pane. Simply scroll through the hierarchical menu structure until you find what you want and click to activate.

The second button (the red one), shows you a list of all the currently running applications. Now, red means stop, so using the red button in Application Wizard allows you to immediately quit any of those running applications, or by scrolling to the bottom of the list, to quit them all at once. Of course, the normal Mac OS X rules apply… if any of the applications have documents in need of saving, you’ll be asked to do this, so no worries about lost work.

Application Wizard’s third button (the green one), acts as a switcher, identical to hitting the Apple and TAB keys simultaneously. Use the green button menu to quickly switch to a different application. Or, if you want to clear the screen of all distractions, you can use that menu, not to switch to a different application, but to hide all but the application you’re currently using.

Finally, the last button, the orange one. This fourth option, the Special one, lets you drill down into any attached hard drive (internal, external, or a partition), as well as provides immediate access to your Home folder, a list of your recently-used folders, all the contacts in your Mac’s Address Book, provides stats on your System Memory and computer’s Uptime, and more. This Application Wizard menu also provides a couple of commands you may find useful, such as the ability to relaunch either the Finder or Dock, plus the common Sleep, Restart and Shut Down options. Finally, you can use this menu to log yourself out of the computer.

Only the last screen shot shows this clearly, but another nice thing about Application Wizard is that it provides information for any document you highlight. In the example, you can actually see a preview of the image, along with quite a few options… things you might want to do with the item. As you can see, you can choose to open the item (with that file type’s default application), or open with a particular program, or with a currently-running one. You can show the item in the Finder, move it to the Trash or – if it’s located deep in your file system, place a copy of the item on the Desktop.

Overall, I’m thrilled with all the functions and features Application Wizard has. In my mind, it’s practically a perfect application. It’s initial interface (the row of four buttons), is very tiny, so I don’t mind having it open and visible at all times. It’s not like trying to have iTunes constantly visible, because iTunes (even in its minimized state), is still fairly large and tends to get in the way. Not so with Application Wizard’s tiny, translucent interface. Then add to the interface the tons of features made available, and you may find yourself forgetting that you can even use the Dock or the Finder to launch applications or perform file operations.

As I mentioned above, Application Wizard is only nineteen dollars to register. Personally, I think that’s about right, but whether to buy or not is obviously up to you. If you’re not sure, I’d recommend heading to the Application Wizard home page and download a trial copy. Use that for up to fifteen days, and see what you think. I know I think it’s great!