If you ever used Mac OS 9 extensively, one of the things you probably miss on Mac OS X, is the old Apple Menu. Mostly because the Apple Menu was sort of an applet launcher. While the OS X Dock now takes over a lot of those duties, it is somewhat lacking as a program launcher, because sometimes a drop down menu is so much more easier to deal with than 20 or so icons. You can however setup a folder and create aliases for all your favorite applications, then drop the folder onto the Dock so that this gives you a menu of programs to choose from in the Dock. A better idea though is to use a program launcher of some sort, of which there are many.
For me, Ranchero Software’s TigerLaunch is my favorite program launcher. It is simple to use, and does only one thing, it gives you a right side menu with a list of programs to launch. There is a simple Configure option which lets you pick any of the programs in your Applications folder and deselect the ones you do not want showing up. If you install new applications, the Refresh option will automatically add any new programs and you will need to open up the Configure option if you need to deselect them.
You can under Accounts in System Preferences add TigerLaunch to your startup list of programs, so that next time you restart your Macintosh, TigerLaunch will automatically startup without you having to manually launch it.
Best of all Ranchero Software does not charge anything for TigerLaunch.
TigerLaunch requires Mac OS X 10.1 or greater and I have personally used it on 10.3 and 10.4 without any problems.