Katapult yourself to keyboard productivity


Author: Mayank Sharma

If you like to keep your hands on the keyboard, you may find it tricky to launch new apps, open folder and documents, and change tracks in your music playlist. Katapult is an application launcher that does everything the Alt-F2 run dialog does, and much more.

The Alt-F2 run dialog is the quickest way to run an application while bypassing the menu, but it lacks an autocomplete feature, so you need to type the full name of the app you want to run. Katapult is aware of all apps listed in the Kmenu, and will autocomplete and autosuggest as you type the name of an application. But launching applications is not all this utility is good for. Using Katapult you can open bookmarks and search the Web in a Web browser, do calculations, check spelling, open folders and files, and change tracks, all without touching the mouse.

Installing Katapult is a no-brainer. Just make sure you have KDE 3.4 or above and GCC 3.3 or above. Then download the source tarball and unpack it with tar -zxf katapult-version.tar.gz. Change into the unpacked directory and type ./configure followed by make to configure and compile Katapult. Finally, as root, type make install to install the utility.

To start Katapult, search for it in the Kmenu — it may reside under different submenus depending upon your distribution — or use the Alt-F2 run dialog to start the program. Once started, Katapult will automatically launch on subsequent reboots.

Katapult sits in the panel, next to the clock, waiting to be called into service. The Katapult launcher pops up when you press Alt-Spacebar. (Make sure another application isn’t using this combination; in Mandriva, for example, Alt-Spacebar launches the Kerry Beagle search tool.)

After pressing Alt-Space, start typing the name of the application you want to run. Depending on the keystrokes, Katapult will figure out whether it’s an application you are after or something else, such as a file, folder, bookmark, or song title. If instead of alphabetic characters you start typing in numbers and mathematical operators, Katapult automatically invokes the calculator and computes the result as you type.

To use Katapult as a spell checker, begin with the word “spell” to trigger the spell checker plugin, followed by the word you want to check. Similarly, all search queries must be preceded by the trigger word “google.” Katapult can also execute commands, which need to be prefixed with the “exec” trigger. For example, exec killall amarok will kill the Amarok music player.

Katapult has one annoying limitation in searching files and folders; it can search for these only in your top-level home directory. If you store your documents under a Documents/ directory, Katapult won’t be able to find them.

Configuring Katapult

You can configure the behavior of Katapult as well as its various plugins. Right-click on the Katapult icon in the panel, or bring up the Katapult launcher with Alt-Space and then press Ctrl-C to bring up Katapult’s right-click context menu. From this menu, you can change the key combinations for the Katapult launcher and other shortcuts, such as the ones to bring up the context menu or to close Katapult.

The most important option is Configure Katapult, which brings up Katapult’s configuration window. Each plugin gets its own configuration section. Here you can change the trigger words for the Google search and spell checker plugin, or make the calculator plugin use a scientific calculator instead of a normal one. You can also make Katapult preview files in the launcher itself.

Katapult is also themeable. The current version ships with three skins. You can switch themes from the configuration window, and also tweak other effects, such as the launcher’s fade-in/fade-out time.

Katapult’s developers provide a handbook on Katapult’s wiki, illustrated with screenshots. There’s also a forum board to post questions and look for help in case you run into problems installing or using Katapult.

Katapult is a small but useful application that will let you keep your hands on the keyboard. You don’t have to remember any complex key combinations to switch tracks while chatting or performing calculations or checking spelling while doing your homework. Katapult is simple enough to use that there’s no learning curve involved.


  • Tools & Utilities
  • Desktop Software