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Desktop OS showdown: Windows 10 vs. macOS vs. Chrome OS

Choosing between operating systems isn’t a new problem – it’s been around for a few decades. But the latest incarnations of both software and hardware offer some new options to consumers at all price and experience levels. If you already know what you want (we see you preparing your nine-point presentation on why your OS is the best, put it down), this guide is not for you. But if you want an exhaustive guide to the pros and cons of Windows, MacOS, and Chrome OS, then read on.

Buying a laptop: Everything you need to know, and maybe a little you don’t

Windows and Mac have been in active development for decades, and if you’re looking for a computer for work, odds are that you’re going to go for one or the other. Chrome OS, a Linux-based system developed by Google, is more of an anomaly. It’s based on Google’s Chrome browser, with much of the same interface and a web-focused design. It isn’t for the typical user, but Google has been improving it steadily for the last few years, and it’s worth consideration for a broader base of users.

Windows

Pros

  • Best selection of software
  • Available on wide variety of hardware
  • Easily the best choice for gamers
  • Works with almost all accessories
  • Rapid updates introduce new features

Cons

  • Rapid update schedule can become confusing
  • Compatibility issues with some hardware
  • Less secure than Chrome OS or MacOS

Microsoft’s Windows, in its various incarnations, holds approximately 90 percent of the desktop and laptop market worldwide. The reasons why are complex, but we can basically break it down into two factors — hardware and software variety.

Because Microsoft sells Windows licenses to more or less any manufacturer to load on desktops, laptops, tablets, and everything in between, you can get a Windows machine in almost any size, shape, or price range. Windows is even sold on its own, so consumers and businesses can manually load it onto their own hardware. That wide-open approach has let it conquer all competitors over the last few decades.

Because of its worldwide availability and longevity, Windows also boasts the biggest software library on the planet. Windows users don’t get absolutely every new application that comes on the market, but even those they don’t initially receive tend to come in Windows form eventually. Consumer, media, enterprise, gaming, it doesn’t matter – if you want the widest array of capability, Windows is the way to go.

Works with everything

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Windows also boasts compatibility with the widest array of hardware. It’s an important consideration if you want to play graphically intense video games, or work with high-powered software for media, video editing, or computer-aided design. There aren’t any ChromeOS systems that offer high-end desktop hardware, and while MacOS does come on the Mac Pro, that system is now several years out of date.

Though most accessories are universal since the introduction of the USB standard, Windows still technically boasts the most compatibility with third-party add-ons, too. Just about any mouse, keyboard, webcam, storage drive, graphics tablet, printer, scanner, microphone, monitor, or any other doodad you care to add to your computer will work with Windows, which is something that can’t always be said for Mac and Chrome.

Windows also gets universal and updated drivers, some provided by Microsoft and some developed by the hardware manufacturers themselves, at a much more frequent rate than alternatives.

Works on everything

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Even if you have no interest in upgrading your machine or running exotic software, Windows devices offer the most variety of form factors on the market. And with the introduction of Windows 10 – which all new retail devices are running in 2016 and later – touchscreens have become much more user-friendly even for complex work. No matter how exotic your tastes, odds are that there’s a Windows machine offering what you want.

Rapid updates

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If you haven’t used Windows in a few years you may associate it with slow, tepid progress. That’s no longer true. With Windows 10, Microsoft committed to rapid updates. And it has executed.

Those who want the cutting-edge can join the free Insider program, which puts out new updates almost every week. Often they’re minor tweaks, but they do add up over time.

In the most recent update, called Windows 10 Anniversary update, Microsoft added major revamps to the notification center, a new “Windows Ink” platform that adds apps and features for PCs with a stylus, extensions for the Microsoft Edge browser, and much more.

Over time, this rapid update program has given Windows 10 an edge of MacOS, which updates every year, but usually with just one or two significant features. Chrome OS also updates quickly, but Google rarely introduces a major new feature update — which has stalled progress.

Compatibility problems

With all that said, Windows isn’t perfect. The open nature of Microsoft’s relationship with desktop and laptop manufacturers means that two different machines, often with the same specifications, might perform very differently. Production quality can vary wildly, even within hardware from the same manufacturer line.

Windows is less secure than MacOS and Chrome OS, simply because it’s the most-used desktop operating system, and thus the most targeted. Windows includes Microsoft tools to prevent and clean viruses and other threats, and third-party tools are available, but there’s no denying that Windows computers are more vulnerable than the competition.

The wide variety of Windows hardware can cause problems as well. Windows’ complex driver system can cause system errors that are left to the user to diagnose and solve, and frequent updates from Microsoft might break software or devices that haven’t been accounted for.

Is Windows for you?

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Windows is in a must better position than it was just a few years ago. The newest version, Windows 10, is more elegant and easier to understand than past editions, and it receives frequent updates.

The problem of complexity does remain. You will likely encounter more bugs with Windows than with its competition. But these bugs are rarely the fatal errors that used to drag Windows’ systems to a halt, and they’re balanced by features and hardware compatibility that is simply unavailable with Microsoft’s competition.

Read our full review of Windows 10

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