Lets see if we can kick this blog back to life a little bit.
I have a nasty habit of leaving tabs open for a very long time in my main browser window. I have 12GB of RAM in my main machine, and usually only boot once a month or so (whenever I finally give in and install the critical Windows updates etc), so this isn’t a problem as such. However, I thougth there must be a better way to handle this. Bookmarks are where URLs go to die for me – how can I stay up to date on the sites I use all the time? This is compounded by the fact that I spend much of my time on three different PCs – my main home machine (Windows 7), my personal laptop (Vista for now), and my workstation at work (Vista for now as well).
Most people familiar with the applications mentioned in the headline will probably see where I am going with this just by reading that line. For the rest, however, here is a short intro to each of them:
DropBox gives you one or more folders on your computer that will be synced between the machines you install it on. Cool for keeping ebooks, common configs, works-in-progress etc. up-to-date even when moving between machines. A 2GB account is free. You can also pay a modest sum for larger accounts.
Launchy is probably the most-used (measured in number of invocations) utility I have. I try to be mouseless to be more effective (and save my wrists), and Launchy takes me there. By pressing a quick keyboard shortcut (mine is alt-escape, the default is something different) I get a window where I type what I want to run. It is relatively smart about finding the right thing based on what you type. You can use it as a calculator etc. And I can start applications a LOT faster than mousing through the start menu. Get it. You’ll be glad you did.
Okey, so we got all three installed. See where this is heading? The basic idea is to define Chrome web apps for sites I use a lot (Stack Overflow and the ever increasing amazing sister sites, GMail, Google Reader / Feedly, LinkedIn, Facebook, GitHub, AgileZen, FogBugz, etc.), share them in a DropBox folder, and then have Launchy scan that folder and use what it finds there as shortcuts. So whenever I need to check my GMail account, I press Alt-Esc – G – M – Enter, and the window is there. Quickly and – dare I say it – with a minimum amount of pain.
There really isn’t much to it. There is only one small trick you have to do, and one very minor thing I didn’t figure out yet.
1. Go to the site you want to turn into a web app in Chrome.
2. Push the document-looking button top right and choose to create a web application (currently the top choice in my Chrome).
3. Choose to create the shortcut on the desktop.
4. Find the shortcut on the desktop. Open the properties window for it.
5. Open a Windows Explorer window (Windows-E). In the address bar, type %localappdata% and press enter.
6. Notice that the start of the value in the “Target” field in the properties window for the shortcut and the address bar in the Explorer window now are the same. Replace the part in the properties window that is the same as the address bar of the Explorer window with %localappdata%. This could turn out to be very important, as Chrome doesn’t install in the Program Files folder – rather, it installs in your local app data folder so that anyone can install it without being an admin. This is nice and all, but if you’re sync’ing with dropbox to computers where the local app data folder is different (different username, different OS), the shortcut won’t work.
7. Store the updated shortcut by clicking OK in the properties window.
8. Create a folder in your DropBox – I called mine Apps – and move the shortcut there.
9. Configure Launchy to scan this folder. To do this, press your Launchy shortcut, then Ctrl-, (control comma). Go to the Catalog tab, press the + button, and add the DropBox\Apps folder. In the “File Types” group, add “*.lnk” as a pattern. Rescan the catalog and press OK to escape the Launchy options window.
10. Repeat pt. 9 for each computer that you’re syncing via DropBox.
So what did we achieve with this? Whenever you start using a new web site regularly, create a shortcut as instructed here, and it will be available on each computer you work on. You will of course have to log in to the web app / site on each computer.
The one small thing I mentioned that I didn’t figure out yet is how to get the icons for the web apps across – but Chrome takes care of that after the first run (i.e. second time you open that web app on a computer, Launchy will also display the correct favicon), so it wasn’t worth angsting over.
I hope this is useful to someone besides myself. :)