Buy even a budget PC these days and you'll get a 1TB hard drive and 4GB of RAM, which you might assume is enough to run just about anything you like. But modern applications can be surprisingly demanding, sprawling across your system, gobbling up valuable hard drive space, consuming large amounts of RAM and generally wasting resources.
It doesn't have to be that way, though. There are still developers around who'll treat your system with respect, producing amazingly powerful yet compact programs with low memory requirements which you can run almost anywhere (often without installation). We call these kind of applications "Tiny Tools", and in this series we're going to introduce you to some of our favourites.
And we're going to start with some very interesting multimedia software. If you thought that playing DVDs, listening to music, editing images or video files required a heavyweight PC then it's time to think again: these tools come packed with features and functionality, yet are so lightweight that they'll run on even the most underpowered system.
1. Media Player Classic Portable 188.8.131.52 - 4.20MB
If you're tired of bloated, resource-hogging media players then there are some interesting alternatives around.
Media Player Classic Portable comes in the form of a single executable file, with no DLLs or codecs to clutter up your system.
A simple but functional interface means the program requires minimal RAM, under 6MB on our test PC. And yet there's enough power here to play CDs, DVDs, audio and video files, playlists and more.
2. Pixelitor 1.1.2 - 1.04MB
Image editing without the hassles, Pixelitor is packed with essential colour tweaks, image adjustments and interesting filters. This is no toy - you'll need some graphics experience to get the most from the program - but as we write the entire Pixelitor application comes in a single 1.04MB file, and there's no installation required: you can even run it from a USB key on any computer with Java installed (Windows, Macs or Linux systems).
3. XMPlay 3.6 - 408KB
Opting for a tiny audio player doesn't mean you have to compromise on looks or features: XMPlayer is ultra-compact at a mere 408KB, yet still manages to have a stylish interface and a lengthy list of powerful features.
The program supports playing all the main audio formats you need - MP3, OGG. WMA, CDA, WAV - and many others. It can handle playlists, too (PLS, M3U, ASX and WAX), as well as streaming audio from FTP or HTTP servers.
The built-in 9-band equaliser helps improve your sound, the visualisations and host of skins mean everything looks great, and if you need more functionality then there are lots of plugins to try - it's a great piece of ultra-efficient programming.
4. Screenshot2Disk 1.1 - 72KB
Press PrtSc to take a screen grab and to save it you must usually open a graphics application, paste it into a new window and click File > Save. Install the tiny Screenshot2Disk, though, and after pressing PrtSc, all you have to do is right-click in the folder where you'd like to save the image, and choose the new "Paste clipboard-image here" menu option: very easy, and much, much faster.
5. VirtualDub 1.10.2 - 3.62MB
When you need to work on or process AVI files, don't reach for some massive video editor: VirtualDub may be able to do everything you need.
The program can trim unwanted frames from your footage. You can apply all kinds of filters to tweak your movie: sharpen, blur, resize, flip, rotate, adjusting brightness and contrast, changing the frame rate, adding a logo to a video, and more.
VirtualDub can even record AVI files from capture devices, or save a video soundtrack as a WAV file.
The program does only work fully with AVI files, though, and you'll need the experience and knowledge to install the codecs individual clips might require.
6. Picture Resizer 6.0 - 392KB
If you need to run a simple resize of a whole batch of JPG files then Picture Resizer is probably the easiest way to do it. Just rename the program's 389KB executable to indicate the size you need on the longest axis - PhotoResize640.exe if you're resizing from 800x600 to 640x480, say - then drag and drop the images onto the program and it'll resize them for you, storing the new versions in the same folder (Picture.jpg would become Picture-640.jpg).
You want to resize by a percentage, or without preserving the aspect ratio? Picture Resizer can do that, and more - the author's site explains all. [http://www.rw-designer.com/picture-resize]
7. TVNations 1.0 - 88KB
TVNations is a simple application which provides easy internet access to a host of different TV channels from around the world. It's easy to use, allowing you to browse the channels by type ("Business", "Entertainment", "Movies", "Music", "News" and so on) or countries.
And while the selection is basic in some areas, we were able to watch BBC sports reports, some classic movies, a music channel, Sky News stream and more: not bad for a portable app which doesn't require installation and consumes less than 100KB drive space.
8. Wavosaur 184.108.40.206 - 564KB
Wavosaur is a surprisingly powerful audio editor which is packed with all the functionality you need to edit, process and even record MP3 or WAV files. If you're an audio expert then you'll appreciate the program's support for VST plugins. And everyone will be impressed by Wavosaur's extreme compatibility (it runs on anything from Windows 98 upwards) and small size (its files only require 564KB of drive space.
9. Hyperdesktop - 216KB
It can often be useful to share a screenshot online, and there are few easier ways to get this done than via Hyperdesktop.
The program can grab the entire screen or selected areas with a click. You're able to draw on the grab or add text to highlight some detail. And Hyperdesktop can then upload your pictures to the Imgur service, with no need to create an account, sign up for anything, or even give them your email address. Just pass on the links to your friends or colleagues and they'll be able to see your shots right away.
10. Lean CD Player - 260KB
Software CD players often consume a lot of valuable desktop real estate - but Lean CD Player does things differently, providing such a tiny interface that it will comfortably fit in the title bar of whatever application you're using.
Despite its small dimensions, though, the program can still do just about everything you need, including pausing and resuming playback; moving to a different position within a track; jumping to the previous, next or a specific track, ejecting the CD, and more.
And it's even possible to make the program pause and resume, step forward or back a track by using hotkeys, so you don't have to touch the mouse at all - see the documentation (leancd.html) for details.