PowerToys Run: Find and launch apps with Spotlight for Windows

Get Spotlight Search-like functionality on Windows

by: - Last updated on: February 4th, 2021

Key Takeaways

  • PowerToys Run is a part of Microsoft’s PowerToys tools.
  • It is like a quick launcher that extends Windows’ functionality to let you get more out of your system.
  • You can think of it as Spotlight Search for Windows that lets you quickly access files, folders, apps, and settings on your computer.
  • Besides searching for files and apps, PowerToys Run also offers the ability to perform quick calculations and execute Shell and Command Prompt scripts.

Microsoft’s Start Menu on its Windows operating system aims to simplify your interactions on the computer. It comes pre-installed with the operating system and lets you quickly open files, apps, and settings on your computer. But, like most default utilities, it also has some shortcomings. In this regard, one of the most apparent problems arises due to the integrated Bing search, which conflicts with the kind of results the Start Menu returns for your query.

Microsoft PowerToys Run (Spotlight for Windows)

Aside from the Bing problem, the default search window also lacks advanced search features. If you’re someone who works mostly on their keyboard and relies on CLI, you can relate to this problem. In which case, naturally, your obvious move here would be to opt for some other launchers that offer flexibility and functionality to open items or execute commands more efficiently.

If you find yourself in the same boat, Microsoft has its PowerToys Run as an answer to your problem. PowerToys Run is a part of the Microsoft PowerToys utilities, which lets you quickly access files, folders, apps, and settings on your computer right from the search bar.

So in case you’re looking to switch to a better launcher, you must check out PowerToys Run to get more out of your Windows 10.

What is PowerToys Run?

PowerToys is essentially a set of utilities for the Windows operating system meant to simplify your experience with different operations. You can think of these utilities as tiny apps that let you perform a specific task in an easier and efficient manner than the default approach. PowerToys was recently made open-source, which allows developers to collaborate and create better and more functional utilities for the operating system.

Spotlight for Windows: PowerToys Run

IMAGE: Microsoft

As of now, Microsoft offers a bunch of different PowerToys utilities like Color Picker, Image Resizer, PowerRename, among others, to extend Windows’ functionality. And Run happens to be one of them.

In simple words, Run is like a quick launcher targeted towards power users that lets you access various elements on the Windows 10 operating system. You can use it to find and open all the different files, folders, apps, and system settings right from the search bar. That way, you can improve your efficiency by not having to rely on the GUI to perform these operations.

What does PowerToys Run offer?

As already mentioned, PowerToys Run is like a quick launcher for Windows 10. It is somewhat similar to Spotlight Search on macOS. For the uninitiated, Spotlight Search is a built-in utility on Apple’s Mac computers that you can invoke with a keyboard shortcut and feed your queries in to get a relevant result. It comes in handy when you want to launch apps, perform quick calculations, and also find files, documents, apps, and settings, among other things.

In pretty much the same way, you can also activate Run with its (keyboard) shortcut and perform the supported operations.

Spotlight for Windows

The following is a list of features that PowerToys Run offers:

1. Search for files, folders, and apps on your computer.
2. Perform simple math calculations.
3. Search for all the running processes on your system.
4. Invoke Shell to perform a range of CLI operations and even execute scripts.

Talking about customizability, Microsoft gives you the option to change a few settings for PowerToys to your preference. Some of the settings you can change include those for the default trigger shortcut, the maximum number of search results offered, and the indexed (drives that appear in search) drives.

PowerToys Run change default settings

To change these settings, open PowerToys and select PowerToys Run from the left-hand menu. Now, click on the settings you want to change on the right and select your preferred option from the available ones.

How to use PowerToys Run?

To get started with Run, you need to, first, install and setup Microsoft PowerToys on your Windows 10 computer. You can head over to our guide on Microsoft PowerToys to check out the steps and learn more about the tool.

Once you have PowerToys installed and set up on your machine, run the app and select PowerToys Run from the left menu. Now, in the PowerToys Run window, toggle the button next to PowerToys Run to enable it.

PowerToys Run

To invoke the PowerToys Run search window, hit the Alt + Space key combination. This is the default trigger shortcut, and you can change it to your preferred one from the settings. In this search window that says Start typing…, enter your query. Like we’ve mentioned in the previous section, you can search for files, folders, and settings on this window, as well as open websites, apps, and even perform calculations.

PowerToys Run search bar

So if there is a file or folder that you want to find, hit the trigger shortcut and start typing its name. If PowerToys finds a match for your query, it will return a relevant result for the same. And you can then click on it to open/view it. In some cases, you also get a few more options that you can choose from the window. You can find these to the right of the result and can click on them to open the file/folder/app with the specified action.

While you can search for items directly in the search window, Run has a few reserved operators to help you target specific kinds of results. That way, you only get the type of result you want. If you are a power user, you would certainly prefer going this route to carry out searches and perform different operations on Run.

Currently, PowerToys Run supports the following operators:

1. Equals sign (=) — to strictly perform calculations
Eg: =1024/2

PowerToys Run perform calculations

2. Question mark (?) — to search files and folders only
Eg: ?index.html

PowerToys Run find files and folders

3. Period (.) — to search only the installed apps on your computer
Eg: .firefox

PowerToys Run launch apps

4. Double forward-slash (//) — to open a URL in the default browser
Eg: //google.com

PowerToys Run open URLs5. Greater-than sign (>) — to execute Shell/Command Prompt commands only
Eg: >ipconfig

PowerToys Run run Shell or CMD commands and scripts

6. Less-than sign (<) — to view only the running processes [has issues running on the latest version of PowerToys] Eg: <process_name

That’s pretty much all you need to know about PowerToys Run and how to use it. You should now be able to use the PowerToys Run utility to perform searches quickly and get results for your queries around files, folders, and applications, in one single place. If you use Shell scripts in your workflow, you can leverage PowerToys Run to quickly execute them using its quick search bar.

More importantly, if you have been a Mac user all this time and have recently made a switch to Windows, you can get Spotlight-like functionality and features out of your Windows machine with this PowerToys utility.

Tip: Enable Run at startup to avoid having to manually run the PowerToys tool every time you boot your computer. For this, head over to the General tab and toggle the button for Run at startup.

Note: PowerToys is now an open-source tool and received updates frequently. If you’re facing certain issues with Run or any of its utilities, you can visit PowerToys’ GitHub repository. Here, you can find all relevant information around your problem, and sometimes, even get fixes to troubleshoot them yourself.

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