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5 Must-Have Programs for Netbooks

Netbooks are small notebooks at their core, although usually with more limited display resolution and oomph. They fit the needs of millions of owners, as witnessed by the impact sales of them have had on the PC industry. Most netbooks sold run a flavor of Microsoft Windows, with XP still front and center on many. The hardware is only part of the picture for any computing solution, netbook or otherwise. The right software tools can often make a big difference on the utility a consumer gets from a given netbook. Here are my five “must-have” programs for netbooks. These are only my own choices, your needs may vary. They are utilities for the Windows platform, so they are not restricted to netbook use.

1. Google (s goog) Chrome browser. Web browsers are things of a personal nature, and while Chrome may not appeal to some I find it to be the best performer on netbooks. Netbooks often have limited hardware resources, and the Chrome browser is the fastest one I’ve tried. It is worth a look if you haven’t in a while, as Google continues to make it better. The addition of extensions is an area that adds lots of value to the user, as indicated in my second program of choice.

2. ChromeTouch for Chrome browser. This is an extension to the Chrome browser, so it’s not really a program on its own. It is only applicable to netbooks with touch screens, but we are seeing more of those hit the market. ChromeTouch adds touch control to the Chrome browser, including panning. It makes it a breeze to drag web pages around with the finger, while still making it easy to select text for copy/ paste operations. It is very configurable, making for a tailored user experience.

3. Xmarks. This is another program that is not really a program, rather a service with hooks into popular browsers. Xmarks keeps browser bookmarks and site passwords in sync among multiple PCs. Many folks using a netbook have other computers too, and Xmarks is the perfect way to keep all web browser environments in sync all the time. What makes Xmarks so powerful over other methods like Mozilla Weave, is that it is cross-browser. It keeps Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Chrome all synced, on multiple computers. This is what lets me use Chrome on netbooks, yet other browsers on more powerful computers.

4. Rocketdock. No matter if you love or hate the Mac OS X (s aapl) dock, I find it adds utility on smaller screens like that on netbooks. Rocketdock is a free utility that adds such a dock. I use it as a program launcher, and also have a battery meter and clock sitting in the dock for constant reference. Rocketdock is fully configurable, and can be docked on any side of the screen desired.

5. Microsoft Security Essentials. Keeping computers protected against malware is as important on netbooks as on any Windows computer. I had long used AVG Free for such protection, but based on some recommendations I checked out the free Microsoft (s msft) Security Essentials. Over time I found it had less of an impact on netbook performance, while doing a good job protecting my stuff.

These five utilities are my must-have programs I install on every netbook I use, but they may not be yours. If you have your own “must-have” programs for netbooks, share them in the comments. We all learn from each other.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

The App Developer’s Guide to Choosing a Mobile Platform

23 Responses to “5 Must-Have Programs for Netbooks”

  1. My favorites for my netbook include one or all of the following video players: vlc or mplayer or media player classic home cinema, plus audacity, fbreader, comical, 7zip, less, scite, sumatra or foxit, xnview and xmplay.

  2. My choice of apps for a netbook.
    1. Windows Live essentials – Free gives e-mail, messenger and skydrive + online office apps.
    2. Windows security essentials – Free protection.
    3. Kindle book reader – Free with some great classics free to download.
    4. OpenOffice – Free and as good as MS office for a lean netbook environment.
    5. Visual studio express 2010, runs fine on my netbook, and C++ + the new Intel AppUp SDK allows you to develope apps for the netbook, oh yes and it’s free!!!!

  3. jarov Ragu

    I would just like to add that AVG is the best free Anti-virus on the market….most experts put it in their top ten where as Microsoft security essentials is NOT even an option.
    Internet Security is more important than ever nowadays and using inferior anti-virus and firewall is DANGEROUS…..
    I would recomend you think how much your safety is worth and choose a GOOD Anti-virus program like kaspersky, AVG 9.0 or Avast and if your unsure consult an expert.

  4. Hi James,

    Nice collection of apps, it must have taken you quite a bit of time to review all these apps! This post of yours made me discover Rocketdock, so at least for that, thank you :)

    I wonder if you’d be interested in a little screen space optimizer for netbooks that I developed. It allows, among other things, to resize any window/application to the size you want, even bigger than the screen, and therefore to make any application fullscreen! This is very useful for the 10″ screen netbook users that we are. It is called ScreenSpace: – let me know if you’d like a license for evaluating it properly.

    Thanks again for your post,


  5. gadgetmerc

    I really like opera as my mobile platform. I use mobile platform because it allows me to use all of my note/netbooks all at once. With Unite and Link I can pick up any of them and work the same. All of my tabs and links sync by default. Whenever I get a new piece of hardware or OS I can be back to work in one install. I don’t have to install a browser and my 10 favorite extensions since opera comes with everything I need by default. It also takes very little of my screen and the new beta uses Windows 7 live preview.

  6. I agree with Chrome. I use StarDock’s Object Dock for my dock on my netbook. Most of my work on my netbook is web based (Evernote, Google Docs, etc.) but I also have OpenOffice (found it runs better than MS Office and it’s free) and Evernote’s desktop version.

    I have antivirus and firewall through my ISP so that’s not a factor for me, I just use theirs.

    I also have CCleaner and Defraggler and use CutePDF to generate PDF files.

    (I’m running WinXP).

  7. Dropbox and Evernote. Anchorfree’s Hotspot Shield for when surfing away from home office.

    I’ll second MS Security Essentials performance being less of a hit on resources than AVG.

  8. Umm, Ubuntu? I see most of the above are only valid if one uses Windows7 – though I much prefer Ubuntu on my netbooks. I agree with Google Chrome – and use it on Ubuntu as well. The Netbook Remix interface means one doesn’t need a dock and works great.


    XP, 2 gb memory, AVG, Opera USB, Foxit Portable, MemTurbo4, ZoneAlarm7,TCP View, CCleaner, TweakUI, StartupCop, Ztree, Everything.

    Most of these are free and all are better than the big names.

    Definitely none of the utilities mentioned in this article. Definitely no browser other than Opera, definitely not Acrobat.

  10. Chrome may be faster but it takes up to much of the screen. Use FF instead with Hide Caption extension.
    Use SMART from the Windows Club to tweak services according to Black Vipers list.
    Generally use portable apps, like eg. Smplayer instead of Windows media player.

  11. Just gotta comment on the terrific layout of information on this post. Yes, content is terrific, but also the neat, highly readable list with each item containing the major link at the beginning. And pics for each item, too!

  12. The top 5 programs I find I install first on any notebook/netbook I get my hands on are as follows:

    1. Firefox
    2. MS Streets and Trips
    3. Office
    4. WinDVD
    5. Cool Edit Pro

    Obviously, there are many more programs I install such as WME, AVG, Acrobat and backup software, and do a ton of tweaking with the OS settings. I actually have a heavy set of applications that I use daily for work along with entertainment purposes. While my list is by no means typical, I’ve found that it’s a solid indicator for performance, as I’ve been using these apps on everything from a HP 2133 netbook on through a Toshiba X305-Q708.