For a week or two now, I’ve been using Enso Launcher. Enso Launcher is a product from Humanized, a company focused on making the computer and its usage more humane.

Enso Launcher screenshot

Enso Launcher installs itself, displays a welcome message, and then immediately disappears out of sight. It patiently waits for you to press its hotkey (Caps Lock by default, but you can change it to the left or right control or windows key, or the right shift key if you like Caps Lock - yes, I’m looking at you, Mr. I-Yell-In-Email-messages!). If that happens, it displays a transparent message, and you can type a command. The original Enso knows about 10 commands (centered around opening and manipulating programs and their windows), the Enso Beta expands that list tremendously.

Enso Launcher is ideal for people who hate using the mouse. And it keeps you focused on your task at hand. You don’t have to remember that Microsoft Word is hiding in Programs, Microsoft Office. Instead, you can tell Enso to Open Word, and it will list all the commands that contain the phrase WORD, with the most likely and most used at the top.

An example of Enso’s use is an incoming phone call. I play iTunes while I’m working, and that can be distracting during a phone call. Instead of pulling up iTunes and pausing the playback, or pulling up the volume and muting it, I can press the Caps-Lock key, type PAU (for PAUSE), and iTunes pauses its playback. After dealing with the phone call, I can press Caps-Lock again, type PL and press the down arrow key to select PLAY TRACK, and iTunes continues where I left off.

Apart from the preprogrammed commands, you can let Enso learn new commands. With Learn As Open, you can teach Enso a new Open keyword for a directory or a file. If you’ve downloaded the Developer Prototype, and are handy with Python, Java, .NET, Perl, Ruby, or any language that supports XML-RPC, you can create your own commands.

The additional beta plug-ins to Enso Launcher add such abilities as addings maps, search an amazing variety of web services, translate selected text, render TeX markup language, and control your media player.

After two weeks of playing with Enso, I’m beginning to miss it on PCs that don’t have it. It’s unobtrusive, right there when you need it, fast and flexible. Plus some of the philosophies built into Enso (like the non-modal dialog boxes) are really interesting ideas, that should be more wide-spread.

Enso is free, open source, and is distributed on Windows 2000, XP and Vista. There are versions in the make for OS/X and Linux as well.