Although there are many ways to launch a program in Mac OS X other than double-clicking the program’s icon—for example, using Spotlight or one of myriad “launcher” utilities—one simple approach has been popular since the early days of Mac OS X: dragging your Applications folder to the Dock. When you do this, a simple click on that folder’s Dock icon in Leopard (or a right-click, Control-click, or click-and-hold in Tiger or earlier) brings up a hierarchical menu of the contents of /Applications; choose a program from that menu to launch it.
If this is your preferred approach, you’re a prime candidate for David Phillip Oster’s AppMenuBoy ( ; free), a product of the Google policy that allows Google engineers to spend 20% of their time on personal projects. AppMenuBoy is, quite simply, a program that gives you, as its Dock menu, a hierarchical menu of the programs in your Applications folder.
Why is AppMenuBoy necessary, given the Applications-folder-in-the-Dock option I mentioned above? AppMenuBoy adds two useful features: First, it displays only programs; for example, if your Applications folder contains any documents or other non-program files, or sub-folders containing such files, those items don’t appear in AppMenuBoy’s Dock menu; only programs, and sub-folders containing programs, appear. A good example of this behavior is the AppleWorks folder, which contains 10 items on my Mac. (Yes, I still have AppleWorks installed; I haven’t launched it in years, but I can’t bring myself to delete it.) A standard Dock menu for the Applications folder shows everything; AppMenuBoy’s Dock menu shows only the AppleWorks program itself and a folder, AppleWorks Essentials, that itself contains programs.
Second, if you’ve got a folder inside /Applications that contains only a single program, or a single program and a mix of documents, AppMenuBoy pulls that program into the main menu, liberating it from a sub-menu. For example, I’ve got a folder for FolderBrander that contains the FolderBrander program and three non-program files: License Agreement.rtf, ReadMe.rtfd, and Yellow Mug Software.webloc. If I’d dragged the Applications folder to the Dock, that folder would appear as a sub-menu and would display all its contents—not very useful if I’m just looking to launch the program. AppMenuBoy, on the other hand, shows just the program, but also ignores its folder altogether, placing the FolderBrander program in the main menu.
Together, these two features mean that AppMenuBoy’s menu is much cleaner than one provided by dragging the Application folder to the Dock—and, thus, much more useful as a makeshift “application launcher.” (Although note that since AppMenuBoy is an application itself, clicking on its icon in the Dock brings the program to the front; to view its Dock menu—the list of programs—you need to right-click, Control-click, or click-and-hold.)
AppMenuBoy is still a 1.0 program. Its menu includes no program icons (although, oddly, AppMenuBoy provides a menu-bar Apps menu, visible when AppMenuBoy is the active application, that does display these icons). And AppMenuBoy creates its menu only when you first launch the program, so the menu doesn’t automatically update if you add items to or delete items from the Applications folder; you need to quit and relaunch AppMenuBoy for such changes to be reflected in the menu. Finally, I wish AppMenuBoy would also include in its menu any programs you’ve installed in your personal Applications folder (in /Users/yourusername/Applications).
Still, for those who’ve been using the old Applications-folder-in-the-Dock trick for accessing their programs, AppMenuBoy is a less-cluttered alternative.