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Guide to Buying a New Laptop – Part 3: Operating Systems


Guide to Buying a New Laptop

Part 3: Operating Systems

By now, having slogged through the swamp of techno-jargon, you should have a pretty good idea of what kind of laptop you want, and what sort of hardware specifications best suit you for your price range. So, whether you want an ultra-portable netbook to take along to seminars or a hefty, high-spec laptop for gaming, there just remains one last question: what operating system (OS) is best for you? There are pretty much only three real choices here – Windows and Mac are the most common operating systems you’ll come across, but Google’s Chrome OS has recently made its way onto the netbook scene, and is growing in popularity.

While those more experienced in tech matters may favour installing a Linux based OS such as Ubuntu, there aren’t many people out there who will directly benefit from doing so, and Linux is largely irrelevant for most users. So the question remains: Mac, Windows, or Chrome? Let’s start by looking at the most common operating system in the world – Windows.


The best thing about Windows is that, because it is the standard on nearly every office, school, and home desktop, it works with pretty much everything, and boasts the largest quantity of available software, and the current version, Windows 8, works with everything that ran on its predecessor (Windows 7, as you might have guessed). In most ways, 8 pretty much is 7, but with a bold new ‘Metro’ style focused on bright colours and simplified icons, and a new tile-based desktop which allows for mobile-style dynamic widgets. Most Windows laptops, also, are likely to come bundled with the still standard Microsoft Office suite, which still offers a robust set of features compared to most other office software. With free alternatives like Google Docs and Open Office making big gains, though, the days of Microsoft Office’s supremacy may be coming to an end.

For anybody looking to play games, Windows is pretty much the only choice. While some games have been ported over to Mac and Linux, nearly all are published solely on Windows, and Windows is best built to get the most out of your computer’s hardware. This is not to say Windows doesn’t have its problems, though. It can be frustratingly buggy at times, and programs can clash and break one another with annoying frequency, not to mention Microsoft’s often baffling design moves (remember Windows Vista?) mean it can often feel like a barely cobbled together mess, but when it comes to functionality, the trade off in stability and user-friendliness is often worth it. Any laptop with Windows 8 also gets a free upgrade to Windows 10 (some reason they skipped 9) when it’s released, which should hopefully bring further improvements.


Macs’ operating system is OS X, currently on version 10.10 ‘Yosemite’ (it follows the Android tradition of giving OS versions silly names), and Apple like to paint it as the cool younger brother of Windows. A MacBook is often as much a fashion statement as an actual laptop, and the price of looking good is high. MacBooks will set you back a hefty amount compared to a similar Windows laptop, and most of this premium goes directly on style. In terms of shear functionality, Macs lag behind Windows – they’re less customisable, less open, and have less programmes – but this is exchanged for a much more stable and refined interface, though this does mean you will be pretty much locked in to the Apple ecosystem (iTunes, iCloud etc.), meaning a Mac will certainly be easier to handle for an iPhone owner than somebody on Android.

Macs are well built and high quality, much like the operating system, but, to stress again, cost an arm and a leg compared to a Windows laptop. For most users, who will, at most maybe edit some photographs, there is little actual gain in using OS X over Windows. Everything, from word processing to streaming videos, will work just as well on either. What you pay for in a Mac is access to the club of people who have bought into the Apple brand. For some, this is worth the price, but for most? It’s a lot of extra money for very little gain compared to Windows.

Chrome OS

Chrome OS is the best operating system you’ve never heard of, and has gone from relative obscurity in the last few years to being a prime contender in the laptop market. Though there are a few larger models (such as the eye-wateringly expensive Pixel), Chrome OS is intended mostly for netbooks (or ‘Chromebooks’ as they are called when loaded with Chrome OS) and offers an ultra-lightweight and easy to use interface. Chrome OS is, quite simply, Google’s Chrome web browser turned into a full operating system and, for the large majority of people, this is pretty much all they need out of a laptop. A Chromebook will let you type notes (through Google Docs), check your email (though Gmail), stream videos, browse the web, video-chat with your family – unless you intend to do more intensive tasks like editing video or playing games, Chrome OS can handle. And now, with Microsoft making their Office applications available in the Chrome store, you can even write your essays on it (or make the switch to the increasingly robust Google Drive).

The downsides? Well, much like with a Mac, you pretty much need to be on the Google ecosystem – which means just having a Gmail account really, which pretty much everyone has already anyway. Chromebooks are rarely particularly beefy machines either (they are just netbooks after all), but, as with the Chrome browser, the selling point of Chrome OS is its speed and lack of clutter, meaning it can eke out all the performance you’re likely to need from the relatively modest specs of the laptop. Perhaps the best thing about Chromebooks, though, is there price. Most cost under £300, and some even go below £200, going on £100, not to mention the increasingly wide variety of makes and models available. Chrome OS is great for most users, and comes at a much lower price than MacBooks, but this does mean a more basic laptop experience. If you want to do more demanding tasks or have access to a wider variety of programs, Windows is the OS for you, while if you want a refined, premium laptop (that comes at a premium price) then it might be worth the extra money for a MacBook.