Blaze (free) helps you more quickly start programs, and a whole lot more. When this techie tool recognizes that you’re doing something with a repetitive pattern–such as typing a sequence of numbers or moving files that all have the same word in the filename–it offers to automate the task for you. You can also teach it to perform a multi-step task, such as clearing your recent Firefox history, by typing one command.
Blaze sits in the system tray until you hit its hotkey (Ctrl-Alt-Space by default). Typing a program name into its pop-up launches that program, and you can type part of a program name and then use the arrow keys to cycle through a list of apps that match. It can also perform some built-in commands, such as starting an e-mail to a certain person using a block of selected text.
You can also easily teach Blaze macros, or sequences of scripted events, such as opening particular programs and selecting specific commands. You start by typing the ‘record macro’ command into the Blaze popup, and then manually doing what you want it to learn. Afterwards you can type in the name of your macro and Blaze will automatically go through the same steps.
Macros are both powerful and relatively easy to set up, but the Blaze Assistant that attempts to help with automated tasks is a bit more complicated, and probably best used by techie types and programmers. It may significantly speed up certain tasks, but tuning it requires being comfortable with things like process names. The online user manual will help a good deal in learning how to use the Assistant and other features.
Blaze could really light things up for a power user willing to dig in and teach it a few tricks, and its ability to create macros in particular is nice and smooth. Less technical users might prefer Enso Launcher, which uses simple natural language commands, but can’t learn multi-step macros like Blaze.