What to install on a tiny Windows laptop

When you're working with a thimbleful of RAM--on a two pound laptop, for example--you need to get choosy about the applications you install.

Acer AspireOne
When you're hard-pressed for RAM, you've got to choose your applications wisely. (Credit: Acer)

At the end of December, my colleague Seth Rosenblatt put together a thoughtful and in-depth Windows Starter Kit that collects the best-of-breed freeware applications for all categories. But what if your new Windows computer can be balanced on the palm of your hand and contains only a whiff of RAM?

Take, for instance, the tiny Acer AspireOne laptop that my mother purchased on little more than a whim and a phenomenal deal. Not for kitchen lookups of recipes or way to win dinnertime debates, as I had imagined when we first slipped the preemie out of its box, but as a way to look up Wikipedia articles, send late night e-mails, and perhaps play a Hulu or YouTube video before nodding off.

With a piddly 512MB of RAM, my mother's new little gem can ill afford to suffer extras, especially when meeting specific, domestic demands. No, it's time to get ruthless.

Despite its diminutive capacity, Little Gem came with plenty crapware on it, and more auto-installed after registration. I fired up the thorough Revo Uninstaller (to uninstall after all is said and done) and fed it an appetizer of Google Desktop and Google Toolbar. (There will be few files to find.) Adobe Reader likewise went out, the free, lighter FoxIt Reader taking its place.

Internet Explorer gets to stay for the time being, only to facilitate Microsoft's automatic updates. While the lighter Chrome would be the natural browser choice, Firefox won over for the time being, so that the folks can use the Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer extension to share bookmarks with the main computer. McAfee's Site Advisor security add-on for Firefox (and IE) is another perk, and one that also offers peace of mind.

Googlepedia is another useful, time-saving add-on that will bring my mom's Wikipedia articles to her if she begins a search within Google. I might also consider installing CustomizeGoogle to blast away ads.

My mother is thus far unshakeable in her use of Outlook for e-mail, but if she can content herself to simply send messages by starlight and forgo reorganizing her in-box, we can rip out the entire Microsoft Office suite. Web applications such as Google Docs will work fine should the occasion arise, and if spreadsheet making and memoir writing go full-scale, Go-OO would likely serve her purpose.

Keeping my mom's new Internet nugget light and lean takes top priority, but the applications she needs for a streamlined experience won't fit everyone's profile. Which small, resource-saving applications do you use to keep from gobbling up all your RAM?

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.