Current versions of OS X, in contrast, use the Dock as the main application launcher. Users can place icons for applications, folders and even documents in the Dock, which is always on-screen by default; just click an item to launch it. If an application hasn't been added to the Dock, users generally find it by browsing through their Applications folder (which itself can be added to the Dock for easy access to all its contents) or by doing a Spotlight search.
While the Dock is good as a basic application launcher, it has limitations. As more and more items are added to the Dock, it automatically shrinks their icons in order to accommodate them all. Even if you don't add every installed application to the Dock, a moderate load of regularly used titles can make it crowded and eventually too small to be really usable.
The Dock's limitations as a launcher are far from new. Over the decade since Apple introduced Mac OS X, a number of alternative application launchers and managers have been released. While none of them offers exactly the same functionality as Apple's Launchpad, some of them come close -- and some take a better approach, in my opinion.
First up is the app that comes closest to Launchpad.
Jump displays an icon in the corner of the screen that, when clicked, pops up an overlay containing applications that you've selected to include for easy access as well as commonly used folders and files. This free tool works with OS X Leopard and later.
Here are some other useful tools for launching apps in Mac OS X:
aLaunch (free/donationware) is a menu-based application launcher that places your chosen apps and folders under a menu bar icon that can be accessed from any application. If you're a longtime Mac user, you'll find the effect very similar to the Apple menu in Mac OS 9 and earlier. You can group related items together and assign global hot keys to open specific items.
While the most recent version of aLaunch requires OS X Leopard or later, earlier versions work with Tiger and Panther.
Alfred, currently in beta, is a combination application launcher and search tool. You launch Alfred via a keyboard shortcut, then type a few letters into the text field to see immediate results, including applications, files on your Mac, and Web bookmarks. If it can't find these, Alfred suggests appropriate Web searches, or you can instruct it to perform a search by typing the site name and your keywords, as in "google ipad 2." You can use keyboard shortcuts to quickly launch the resulting apps, files, bookmarks or searches; Alfred learns your most commonly used items and orders the results appropriately for even faster access.
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