Should I get a Windows laptop or a Chromebook?

Dell Chromebook 13 press image courtesy of Dell Inc.

Is it worth buying a Chromebook or a Windows or Mac computer

Over the last year, the COVID-19 coronavirus plague and the associated lockdowns has caused us to rely on our computers more heavily. One of the trends was an increased and sustained interest in regular desktop and laptop computers that run desktop operating systems. Here you might as well see these computers sit alongside that mask and that quantity of hand sanitiser as “purchases that marked the COVID-19 season”.

But there has been a strong interest in the Chromebook which is a laptop equipped with low-power processing silicon and running Google’s ChromeOS desktop operating system rather than the established Windows, MacOS or Linux desktop operating  systems.

These machines are being seen nowadays as the equivalent of one of the European “people’s cars” like the VW Beetle or the Citröen 2CV – that is a cheap no-nonsense no-frills approach to personal computing. It was a similar effort to the “netbooks” that came out in the early 2010s after the Global Financial Crisis or “Great Recession” where there was, again, a desire to get “back to basics” and offer a no-frills personal-computing product.

This is more so of the earlier iterations of that kind of computer, although some newer Chromebooks are being equipped with better-performing silicon and more RAM and local storage. It is equivalent to newer and higher-specification variants of these “people’s cars” that appeared some time in their model lives where they gained more powerful engines and extra features.

VW Beetle

The VW Beetle – one of those European “people’s cars”

Let’s not forget that schools and businesses recently placed value on the Chrome OS platform due to its security and manageability. This is in addition to not being able to easily run Windows or Macintosh software or any software from non-Google app stores which was seen as a way of keeping users away from games or malware.

As well, Google had improved the Chrome OS operating system with abilities like running Android mobile-platform software or having its own file manager. The operating system has even been tweaked to take advantage of more powerful hardware.

But when you are considering that new laptop, you may be thinking about whether to buy a unit that runs an established operating system like Windows 10 or MacOS; or to purchase a Chromebook. This is more so if you are thinking of an entry-level computer of some sort.

Software

One of the things to think of is what kind of software are you expecting to run on your computer or what devices you expect to use it with. You may find that these computers will do well for Web browsing and for basic word processing, spreadsheet and presentation work with modest-size documents. Even Microsoft have ported their Word, Excel and Powerpoint software to this platform.

There are some basic photo and video editing tools available for Chrome OS users and you may have to be careful of the size of your project unless you use a high-end Chromebook.

Advanced productivity needs like working a desktop database, doing desktop publishing or any advanced computer graphics / multimedia work may be difficult with a Chromebook. Here, Windows and MacOS can do these tasks better.

When it comes to leisure, there are some Android games that work with Chrome OS and Android software developers are being encouraged to have these games work with keyboards and mice rather than touch-only operation. Web-based games and streaming game services can also work well with Chromebooks. You could run Linux games on your Chromebook but it would have to be a high-end model with the right amount of power.

You may be able to find that Android-native clients for the popular video-streaming services can work with your Chromebook. Other than that, you can use Chrome for Web-based video streaming.

Access to the Social Web can be facilitated through native Android client apps  This can be a boon with Instagram for example where there isn’t an official native desktop client that has access to the file system for uploading photos and videos taken with other devices.

Hardware

Chromebooks can use SD cards or standard USB Mass-Storage devices like thumbdrives or external hard disks with them available to Chrome OS’s Files app. This is although the Chrome OS platform was initially designed to work with online storage services like Google Drive. They can also use Bluetooth or USB Human-Interface-Device peripherals like keyboards or mice.

For printers and scanners,, Chrome OS would support devices that implement Mopria or have equivalent Chrome OS or Android apps. There is further work being undertaken with refining the printing experience for that operating system.

But if you are considering the use of specialised hardware, the Chrome OS platform would suit you. This is because of this kind of hardware would be dependent on drivers that have to be written for or ported to Chrome OS.

Conclusion

At the moment, the Chromebook would be considered for those of us who have a long-term view of basic computing needs. This is more so if you are willing to learn a new operating system and its quirks.

It wouldn’t really be suitable as a substitute for a Windows, Macintosh or Linux computer especially if you still crave the flexibility that these established desktop operating systems provide.

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