It's no surprise that applications have gotten huge. Software is like a gas – expands to fit the volume and disk volume is getting bigger and cheaper.
Take a look at a typical PC game. It likely comes on a DVD because it is several gigabytes in size. The same is true for operating systems and productivity applications. And Linux geeks, don't think it's any better for you. A decent distro with a good GUI such as Ubuntu can still take up gigabytes of disk space. If you are sitting there smug and thinking that it's not true because you use on-line apps instead, think again. A quick look at Google Docs should dispel the notion that it is in some way small. Every day new “capabilities” pop up that not only add to the size of the Google apps, consume amazing amounts of memory and include features that nobody uses. At any given moment, my Firefox browser with a couple of tabs open eats up a half a gigabyte of memory. Sure, it's partly due to my own excess with extensions but without the extensions Firefox is just not that interesting. I know that disk storage has gotten stupid cheap but that's only a small part of it. These enormous apps consume RAM, processor time, and mind share.
The good news is that there are still a lot of great small applications that are easy on your computer resources and downright useful. I love apps like that. They do one thing, do it well, and cost very little if anything. Here's a couple of examples.
Fences organizes the icons on your desktop into little groups. You use the mouse to draw a “fence” around the icons and they are encased in a transparent box with a label (or without if you prefer). You can then move the icon group around, resize the fence, and change the arrangement of the icon. Organizing icons on a desktop is something most of us do anyway with no help from the OS. Fences makes it much easier and more attractive. It's free from StarDock. Huzzah for Fences!
A simple tool bar with a small footprint. RocketDock does what the Apple OS X Dock does but for Windows. It creates a highly configurable tool bar which makes it easy to add and remove applications and folders. It's free from Punk Software. Huzzah for RocketDock!
Cartouche is a nice, simple, matching game. You have a set of colored Egyptian hieroglyphic symbols that you match by symbol or color. When a match is made, the symbols disappear and the other symbols move to fill in the open area and new ones fill in at the top. Do this over and over until you run out of time. One can spend hours playing this game. It's free, written in Java - hence portable -, has a tiny foot print, and even a small child can understand how to play. Huzzah for Cartouche!
Virtual Desktop managers rarely work this well. I expect them to crash Explorer or themselves on a regular basis. That's not the case with VirtuaWin. It creates multiple desktops and has easy keyboard and GUI navigation between them. Unless you have multiple monitors or rarely do more than one thing at a time, it's indispensable. And its memory footprint? 960K with hour desktops. Huzzah for VirtuaWin.
Remember the Milk
An online service that combines simplicity with power. All it does is help manage tasks. Having your task list online means having it wherever you are. It doesn't try and cram too many features and sticks to a simple, clean interface. Huzzah for Remember the Milk.
There are, of course, many more. World of Goo, is an amazing game that is small by modern standards. Notepad++, a text editor that is a favorite of programmers everywhere, is another relatively small but amazingly useful program. And who can forget TrueCrypt, a top notch, open source, encryption program. All of these are low or no cost, do one thing amazingly well, and don't suck up massive amounts of system resources. In some ways that makes them old school but in a good way.
So, when you are feeling frustrated that your latest app took up half of your massive hard drive and requires you to go out and buy a new computer, remember that there are still a lot of really great but small applications. Look past the giant applications with feature overload for the simple ones that actually do what you want.