I have been using a program called Wbar (GPL) for quite some time now. Wbar is a lightweight launcher tool/panel which gives you easy access to your favorite programs while being easy to customize. Wbar home page can be found from here:http://code.google.com/p/wbar/
Installing and using Wbar
Wbar should be available in a number of modern distributions. Just go to your package manager and searh something called wbar or similar and you should be good to go. If Wbar is not found from your system consider compiling it from a source which is usually a matter of executing the commands: ./configure && make (as a normal user) and then make install (as a root or a sudo) when all the needed dependencies are installed.
Wbar’s default configuration looks like this:
While my configuration looks like this:
The above screenshots are from a state where Wbar is unfocused. Wbar will be sharper and icons will jump out very nicely when you move your mouse on top of them.
To make things simple below is pdf containing the Wbar configuration I composed. Save the entries as a regular linux text file called .wbar (place .wbar inside your user home directory).
You can get the background I created and used in the above from here: http://www.techtimejourney.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/wbar.png
NOTE: I used /etc/skel as a place for the background. If you use this folder remember that you need a root or a sudo access in order to place or erase files from that folder structure.
As you can see I did not use many program entries in the above example, so feel free the customize or add entries according to your needs. NOTE: If you want results similar to my tweaked screenshot above you must install nuoveXT2 icon set. NuoveXT2 is the default icon set of Lxde and it should be widely available in a variety of Linux distributions.
To customize Wbar you can either use the old fashioned way and write entries manually or then you can use a nice little gui program called wbarconf: http://linux.softpedia.com/get/Utilities/wbarconf-34908.shtml
Whatever your approach may be have a great time with Wbar.
Some additional notes:
1. If Wbar starts too quickly you may have some rendering problems so give it a few seconds of sleep before running it. I used the following line in my startup configuration: (sleep 4 && wbar) &
2. It might seem to be a good idea to run wbar in a –above-desk mode. The previous might however render the usability to become somewhat unpleasant as Wbar is always above all the other windows which are being opened.
In order to see all the configuration options use the manual pages: type man wbar while you are inside a terminal client.
EDIT AND ADDITIONS: 6TH OF AUGUST
In the beginning of the wbarconfig example above, on the 3rd line of the pdf , you see an entry: t: /usr/share/fonts/truetype/liberation/LiberationMono-Regular/12
The above points to a font which you have to have installed in your system or otherwise Wbar might have problems or not run. You can tweak the font value if you do not have the LiberationMono font for some reason. Alternatively you may just use a variable t:none instead of an actual font line. Do note however that if you use the value none you will not get any text entries for program icons when using wbar.
Remember also that if you do not put the icon image entries in the Wbar config exactly as they are found in your system Wbar may not run at all. The path to an icon image file should be exact:
in the above entry
i: means icon image file –> if this value points to something that is not installed in your system wbar may not run.
c: means command to run the program
t: text entry for the image