If you have a case of Mac-envy, or if you’re looking for a launcher that combines both form and function, then check out Winstep Nexus.
This docking launcher has been out for a while, but the latest release (ver. 12.2) is a quantum leap forward in terms of speed and performance, as well as a host of other improvements (e.g. the email checker can now check webmail services).
There is no shortage of excellent, stylish-looking free docking launchers out there, of course, but Nexus is one of the best for many reasons (1) its many features and options are streamlined and laid out in a way that make sense, (2) it is fast and consumes little resources, (3) it can display both your running applications and system tray in the dock, giving you the option to forgo using your Windows taskbar altogether, and (4) it offers a very nice drag and drop user experience, with convenient on-dock modules, etc.
5 Things I like about Nexus:
(Which is kind of not fair, because I already listed 3 things I like about it already in the intro above, but here goes…)
1. Wonderful skins and effects: I typically find 80-90% of skins, animation effects, and reflections to be redundant. But some of the skins in Nexus are impressive, and the effects very well done. Also, although probably not foremost on most users’ list of considerations, the sound effects are really well done and add very nice atmospherics (especially the default sound scheme). Nexus can even import and use Objectdock themes.
2. Performance and resource usage: this program takes up about 20 megs on my Windows 7 system. Which, for a program such as this, is relatively very little. The speed and responsiveness is impressive. Note that you can actually tweak the performance vs. memory usage tradeoff to your liking.
3. The option to display running applications and system tray in the dock: making the Windows taskbar dispensable, if you like. As with the Windows taskbar, you even get the little Aero previews on mouseover (see screenshot below).
4. Extremely customizable: most everything can be changed to your liking, from auto-hiding to the placement on the dock on any side of the screen to the animations, skin, and sound effects as mentioned previously. The varying options are laid out nicely, in a cascading style menu or
5. In-dock commands and modules/docklets: there’s quite a few of these and they are very well made. I am very keen on the ‘Weather’ and ‘CPU usage’ docklets in particular (see the former in the screenshot below). You can add icons that to control your media player from the launcher as well.
Differences between free and paid version: a number of these, but the one that I really miss in the paid version is the ‘shelf’, whereby you could link and access the contents of folders or the desktop from the dock (without having to put them there first, that is).
The verdict: a solid, zippy docking launcher that proves that the ‘free’ version of something can still be pretty darn awesome. Try using this in combination with a program like Standalone Stack 2 for more usage options.
Version tested: 12.2
Compatibility: Windows 2000/2003 Server/XP/Vista/7/8; 32 or 64 bit.