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Friday 11 April 2008

Kysrun, a KISS application runner

The previous post introduced application launchers and how well they fit with the Eee PC. Of them, Mercury is the most interesting one: relatively easy to install on the Eee PC and it works well. Unfortunately, Mercury did not seem to support google searches or the on-the-fly calculator like in Katapult. The first time, I also didn't see a source code package.

This led me to write a new application launcher: Kysrun. The name comes from "keystroke application runner". But the name also sounds like "KISS Run" as in the KISS principle.

After pressing the ALT+SPACE keyboard shortcut, the Kysrun window pops up above your desktop filled with applications. See how typing a few letters suffices to start Firefox:

Making a new small program like an application launcher looked easy. First, the "update-database.sh" shell script in Mercury showed how simple the indexing could be. Some tricks to work around peculiarities of the OS were also easy to understand. Second, Python and PyQT are installed by default on the Eee OS. Now, having never programmed with PyQT or even QT, this was an opportunity to discover PyQT and Qt.

After one evening, the first version was working. Programming with PyQT proved to be very quick.

A few days after writing Kysrun, I saw the link to the source package of Mercury. Duh, how did I miss that !

Kysrun does a few things more than Mercury. For example, the indexing is built in Kysrun and is started from inside Kysrun. The indexing even starts automatically the first time. Kysrun can run searches on wikipedia and imdb besides google. Kysrun also has an on-the-fly calculator a bit like Katapult. Last but not least, extending Kysrun is very easy with its simple Python implementation.

On the Eee PC, nothing needs to be installed besides Kysrun itself. Despite being originally designed for the Eee PC, Kysrun also works well on normal laptops or desktop computers. I even switched from Katapult to Kysrun on my laptop. You can download Kysrun from http://colabti.org/kysrun and try it out.

Friday 21 March 2008

Application launchers for the Eee PC

The Eee PC is a real pleasure to use, but switching windows and hunting sub-menus to launch a program is inconvenient. The (very) small touchpad does not help.

Eee PC

Enter the application launchers. An application launcher pops up when hitting a keyboard shortcut like alt+space. In the application launcher window, you type the name of the application you want. While you type, the tool displays the applications which match. As soon as your program appears, hit enter and the application launcher disappears and starts the requested program. Very often, you just need to type a few letters to get the application you're looking for, like "fi" for Firefox. Starting a program this way goes fast, much faster than going to the menus, finding the menu entry and clicking on it. Best of all, application launchers do not require to break your fingers on the small touchpad.

Many application launchers exist. On Mac OS X, Quicksilver is very popular. In the Linux world, you have Katapult which works a lot like Quicksilver. Windows has a whole bunch too, including the open source Launchy.

As the Eee PC uses a Linux distribution, Katapult is the first choice. Unfortunately, Katapult has a lot of dependencies which makes it hard to install on on the Eee PC.

As an easy to install alternative, Martin Davis created Mercury. Mercury is a simple application launcher written with the Eee PC in mind. Mercury has very few dependencies (mainly the SDL library) and is very easy to install.

Mercury Application Launcher Screenshot