Industry- or Task-Specific Apps Have Their Place -- But They're Not Lightweight
Powerful software like Adobe Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, or other industry-specific tools are necessary. But for those of us who want to write, research, and conduct everyday productivity you really need something that won’t slow you down.
Why Lightweights Are Better Than Heavyweights
It’s easy to hang an albatross around your neck by using a “heavyweight” piece of software in a lightweight way. I find myself often doing this with Excel. It’s easy to use it for making a list since you can organize all the details into a table and then bring in some color to make the details stand out better. However, that’s clearly overkill. Especially when you need to make sure everything will sync properly across OneDrive (not always a guarantee) or need to pull it up on a mobile device. Spreadsheets have gotten a lot better, but they’re still sometimes tricky from a smartphone.
Another related example is something like Evernote or OneNote. The former especially has succumbed to what’s been called the five-percent problem: everyone uses five percent of the software, but it’s a different five percent. That means a lot of capabilities need to hang around, which can get in the way or make what was once a speedy program slow to a crawl.
Great Apps Don't Always Make Great Lightweight Apps
It’s tough to make legacy software repurposed for mobile devices. The future is in platform-and-device agnostic apps. While Microsoft has done an admirable job in turning the U.S.S. Office in another direction, the experience is still sometimes clunky when you move from desktop to mobile -- syncing issues and the always work-in-progress interface in some of Office’s mobile apps. Excel is nice for keeping a list and using color to code cells, but do you really need all that algorithmic power if that’s all you need to get done?
To Go Lightweight, Start With Note-Taking Apps
One good place is to start with notes, and two excellent solutions come from the companies that run the software for the world’s mobile devices: Google Keep and Apple’s Notes. I’ve mentioned these in the past, especially how Keep makes good use of color. But both are worthwhile in this context.
Here's a Lightweight App for Note-Taking
Simplenote is a good solution if you want to branch out beyond the Google-Apple duopoly.
Write More Without More Bloat: Your Lightweight Word Processing App
Though at the risk of sounding like a Google fanboy, I’ve come to rely on Google Docs as my primary writing platform. Word can do pretty much anything - but that’s part of the problem. There’s usually five different ways to attack each formatting problem or other matter, and if all you want to do is write, and especially not worry about where your work is saved, you can’t beat what Google has built up with Docs.
How A Photo-Editing Tool Demonstrates Lightweight Apps Done Right
Photo editing is one area where tools are loaded up with all sorts of features*, but sometimes all you want to do is crop a photo to make it a specific size. For this I like Polarr for quick edits. There’s a dedicated app for Windows, OS X, Chrome, iOS, and Android.
That’s doing it right: no matter the platform, you have a friendly tool that will look just about the same while taking advantages of each platform’s key strengths.
*And rightly so: There's a lot of different ways to edit a photo.
Sometimes MS Paint Beats Out Photoshop. This Is Not A Joke.
The retro award goes to Microsoft Paint. When I’m using Windows it’s still the best, simple solution for throwing together a quick edit. It’s also faster, since I don’t have to wait for PhotoShop or another intensive program to load up. Yes, this can still happen even when running a highly capable machine.
Keep It Light Out There
What’s considered a lightweight application is going to vary from one person to another. Google Docs, for example, has become increasingly complex as Google has sought to build it into full-blown rival to Microsoft office. So you may want to go even more nimble, with something like TextEdit or one of the many excellent, minimalist writing programs like iA Writer.
The Bottom Line on Lightweight Apps
The bottom line is that you’ll spend less time navigating menus, looking for files, and trying to remember how everything works if you stick to lightweight tools. If you have a lightweight favorite, be sure to let us know about it in the comments as once in awhile that “next great app” actually lives up to the promise.