Launch your programs faster with Katapult

Short URL:


One of the biggest navigational issues with any operating system is using program menus. Windows users have to open the Start Menu, scan for the program, realize that the program is probably in the subfolder under the programmer’s name, scan the appropriate subfolder, and then click on the program’s icon. Macintosh users must open Finder, find and click on the Applications folder, and then search for the program’s name. GNOME and KDE users have an advantage: they have categories in their respective Applications and K menus. However, it is still hard to find programs (and what if you look for Thunderbird in Office, and then realize it is under Internet?). One of the biggest reasons that the Quicksilver keystroke application launcher is so popular with the Macintosh users. All that is required is hitting Ctrl (or Command) + Space, and then typing a name to launch the program. Luckily, OS X users aren’t the only ones that have this great feature. KDE users have the great, free-as-in-speech, Katapult.

Katapulting yourself into action

Since many KDE distributions include or offer packages for it, Katapult is extremely easy to install. After doing so, open Katapult (under the Utilities menu in K Menu, or by typing Alt-F2 and then katapult) and it will display an “Application successfully started" message. To begin Katapulting, type Alt + Space (Bar). Type in a program name that is in the K Menu, such as Konqueror (Katapult will only index programs in the K Menu), and hit Enter when the Konqueror icon comes up. Voila! Konqueror will launch. You can also just type konq, wait for the Konqueror icon to come up, and hit Enter. To close the Katapult window (note that Katapult will stay open, so you can still hit Alt + Space to bring it forward), wait for a few seconds or click outside of the Katapult window.

Although Katapult’s main strength is launching programs, it has other useful features. First, it can be used as a fully-fledged calculator. Just type [YOUREXPRESSION] (so 1+1*7^5 will give the result 16,808). If you hit enter after typing the expression, the equation will be copied to the clipboard for further reference.

Want to see if you spelled “mispelled" correctly? An easy way to do so is to use Katapult’s built-in spell checker. Just type spell [YOURWORD] (so spell mispelled would bring up a red X and some suggestions), while spell misspelled would bring up a green check mark). Hitting enter on misspelled word will copy all the suggested words to the clipboard.

Many KDE users (myself included) use Amarok to listen to music. But to switch to a particular song in a playlist requires opening Amarok, searching for the song, double-clicking, and then sending Amarok back to the tray. Why do that when you can just use Katapult? Just type in the song name that you want to listen to, and Katapult will play that song in Amarok (so typing walk the line will pull up one of Johnny Cash’s biggest hits).

My home folder is one of the most cluttered areas on my computer. To find a file (or even a folder) in it takes an extremely long time. So it’s a good thing that Katapult indexes the home folder. Just type the file or folder’s name, and hit enter (so typing file.txt will open up the appropriate file in the appropriate program). The one caveat is that you can’t tell Katapult where to index, and it won’t search subfolders (so the file in ~/docs/ won’t be indexed).

I read news sites like Newsvine about every five minutes. But to do so requires firing up Konqueror and then typing in the URL. Why go to all that trouble when Katapult will do it for me? If you use a Mozilla-based browser (Konqueror, Firefox, etc.) Katapult will automatically import your bookmarks. Just type your bookmark name (e.g., Newsvine), hit enter, and it will open up in Konqueror.

Configuring Katapult

Sometimes, the default configuration of Katapult isn’t enough. What if you use JuK instead of Amarok, and therefore don’t require the Amarok catalog? Or what if you store your documents in a folder besides the home folder and consequently don’t require the document catalog? Or even, what if (gasp!) you passed 3rd grade spelling and don’t need the spell checker? It is time to fire up the Katapult configuration tool. Open the Katapult window (Alt + Space, remember?), and then hit Ctrl + C. Clicking the “Configure Shortcuts" will open the shortcut editor. But what we want is the “Configure Katapult" option. Now, you can add and remove catalogs, add a system tray icon, and change the skin.


All in all, Katapult is a terrific must-have app. In a few days, you’ll find yourself not being able to survive without it. There are a few things I would add (a drop down menu like the free-as-in-speech but Windows-only launcher, Launchy, includes would be especially nice), but overall, this is one of my favorite GNU/Linux applications of all time. Best of all, if you want a new plugin added (like a dictionary or Google search), it is easy to create one thanks to Katapult’s API.



Dave Guard's picture

It looks like Deskbar Applet is the equivalent for GNOME. It does a whole bunch of things: you can run commands; it'll search your emails, files and folders, web bookmarks, history, previous web searches and delicious bookmarks too; open up web pages; interface with beagle; do dictionary searches; switch windows. I have mine bound to Ctrl + Alt + End.

Because it does window switching I can find windows I already have open too, which means I don't need a the task bar at all. If I minimise a window by mistake I can use deskbar to get it back by typing the name of the app.

It would be good if it had a calculator like Katapult. And, if the spell function Katapult has is built-in and doesn't require you to be online, then it would be a feature I'd like built into deskbar too. I don't know whether it has an API for plugins but I can imagine that would be a good way to get these other features built in.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I had katapult, but never found it all that much more useful than alt-F2, switching songs in amarok didn't work for me, and I don't use amarok anymore (moc player instead), so it wouldnt matter. I've got specific hotkeys for a lot of programs, and I just don't like the idea of some other app sitting the background using system resources (have the same feeling about kerry beagle). On the other hand of course what are system resources there for, but to be used up?

Alfred Fox's picture

I liked it. I think it works well, no problems and it did actually seem to speed up my program launching. But as 'Anonymous Visitor' pointed out, Alt-F2 is about the same as far as usability. Although the build in calculator / spell functions are pretty cool. Sort of like Google. But not as...robust?

Gabe Hanover's picture
Submitted by Gabe Hanover (not verified) on

Beginning with Windows 95 and still available in Windows XP, Microsoft's Program Manager (progman.exe) has been available to provide an easy way to organize and launch programs. I have nine catagories, each with its own window in Program Manager to allow easy access. I am supprised it is not still popular as I have not seen a better solution to date.

Danboy's picture
Submitted by Danboy on

Why would we care about what Microsoft does or has done? We are talking about GNU/Linux here!

Colorado Home Loan's picture

The reason Microsoft's program manager isn't very popular is because most windows uses aren't that bright. Power users use Linux and want to customize every aspect of their environment, windows users on the other hand want Microsoft to create the experience for them so they don't have to think..

This is a great app, I love it when people post screen shots so that we can see what is going on.

EdwinZ's picture
Submitted by EdwinZ (not verified) on

Surly all of these things can be achieved from the command line? Isn't that why people use Linux? Set konsole to be the top item in your K menu or create a shortcut. Infact for the spelling or maths you can save time by booting up without X.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Last time I checked, Konqueror wasn't a Mozilla-based browser.

Author information

Andrew Min's picture


/ˈændruː/ /mi:n/
(n): a Christian.
(n): a student.
(n): a technology enthusiast.
(n): a journalist for several online publications.

Andrew Min is a student, programmer, and journalist from New York City.

My main forte in the technology realm is journalism. I’ve written for a variety of magazines, both print and non-print, with a focus on open source software and the new web. I’ve also been interviewed on a long list of topics, ranging from politicians on Twitter to open source software and homeschooling.

I also have experience with a variety of programming languages (Bash, Batch, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, and (X)HTML) and content management systems (WordPress). I’ve been hired to design and administer several websites. In addition, I’ve been the lead programmer on several small coding projects.