Chromebooks vs. Windows Laptops: The Real Story

A Chromebook is for more than just surfing the web and using web apps.

Microsoft are the undisputed kings of using FUD in marketing, and in their recent (since removed) shoddy comparison of a Chromebook vs a Windows laptop they conveniently and expectedly left out some important facts. This web page will attempt to correct some of those inaccuracies.

The table they offered up is supposed to compare a typical Chromebook (anywhere around $200 - $350) to a similarly priced Windows laptop, yet they deliberately forgot this price point for some of the items mentioned. This is not entirely fair when you consider the Windows laptops they recommended were the Hewlett-Packard Pavilion 11 TouchSmart ($599), the Dell Inspiron 11 (starting at $579) and the Asus Transformer Book T100 ($492) which cost significantly more than a typical Chromebook.

So here is Microsoft's original comparison table reproduced, with corrections, additional information and real world costs to put things into perspective.

  Chromebook Windows Laptop

Surfing the web

Web apps

Microsoft Office and other Windows programs

The FUD: "On a Chromebook, you can't install Excel, Word, PowerPoint, or any other part of the Microsoft Office suite."

The truth: Microsoft Office is available in the Chromestore, so yes you can indeed use Word, Outlook, Power Point, One Note and Excel on a Chromebook.

But if you're not into MS Office or you can't justify the spend, there's always Google's cloud based office suite (Google Docs), which by default allows you to edit, create and share Microsoft Office compatible files.

Transferability of Microsoft Office can also be a problem, depending on which license you have and retail copies of Office 2013 are tied to a single computer forever. Chromebook owners do not have this problem, regardless of if they prefer Google's office solution or Microsoft Office.

Minimum Additional Cost: $0
Free cloud based Google Drive which includes 15gb of storage, Docs, Sheets, Slides and more.
Based on a 12 month Personal Office 365 subscription, but a retail copy of Microsoft Office Home & Business 2013 would actually cost $299.

Skype, iTunes, Photoshop, Quicken, and other essential programs

The FUD: "There are thousands of programs that run on Windows. A Chromebook can't run many of them."

The truth: Adobe announced they are welcoming the Creative Cloud to Chromebooks, starting with Photoshop. It's not available yet, and if you don't want to wait there is always the free Pixlr cloud app.

Microsoft has brought Skype to the web (though still a work in progress), so you will be able to use it regardless of what platform you are on, even on a Chromebook.

The equivalent of Skype and iTunes on a Chromebook are Hangouts and Google Music respectively, and both are arguably better products. Quicken for Windows is not free, but there are plenty of cloud based alternatives that are just as feature rich and many are free.

Photoshop, despite its greatness, is practically unusable on a small cheap Windows laptop. Nobody who designs for a living - and I do mean absolutely nobody (go on, ask your designer friends) - will choose a small cheap underpowered Windows laptop for any sort of design work. Putting that aside for a moment, none of the Windows laptops Microsoft have singled out even have 8GB of RAM or screen real estate that Adobe recommends. Microsoft is being completely unrealistic and desperate by including Photoshop in their table.

As for accounting/bookkeeping, Wave (to cite just one of many free solutions) is free cloud-based software for small businesses that includes Invoicing, Accounting, Payroll, Payments and more.

Minimum Additional Cost: $0
No additional cost when using the free alternatives for accounting and image editing. Adobe Creative Cloud release date and pricing for Chromebook not yet known.
Based on the Starter Edition of Quicken for Windows ($40), a one year Adobe Creative Cloud subscription with Photoshop only ($240) and a $100 RAM upgrade (which may not even be possible).


The FUD: "A Chromebook desktop is only a background image. You can't put anything on it."

The truth: True. But I don't believe the inability to drag onto the desktop to be a deal-breaker for anyone. You can however easily add icons to the task-bar and apps menu just like a Windows laptop.

Use almost any printer

The FUD: "A Chromebook only works with Google Cloud Print-ready printers. Don't have one? The only other way is to route your printing job through a real PC or a Mac."

The truth: Only the last part of this statement is true. Cloud printing is still in its infancy, and the list of Cloud Ready Printers is always growing. But if you're happy to print to a printer on a network that is connected to another machine - you know, pretty much like every household that has a shared printer - then you can print to almost any "classic" printer on a network using Cloud Print. This is a non-issue, and Microsoft knows it.

PC games

The FUD: "You can't install Call of Duty, Age of Empires, or any of your other favorite PC games on a Chromebook."

The truth: When was the last time you heard someone say "I really want to play the new Call of Duty, and I think one of those cheap Windows laptops would be perfect"? Nobody ever, past present or future. Gamers are NOT going to buy a cheap Windows laptop for this purpose, or a Chromebook for that matter.

In fact, there is precisely zero chance you'll be playing the latest Call of Duty on any of the cheap Windows laptops that Microsoft recommends, simply because they fall way short of the insane minimum system requirements.

Cheap Windows laptops typically have on-board graphics hardware only good enough for pushing pixels around a 2D desktop environment, not 3D gaming.

Short of employing some sort of black magic or witchcraft, you're never going to be playing the latest bleeding edge games on a cheap Windows laptop. Ever.

Minimum Additional Cost: $0
You can't play COD on a Chromebook, but many games are free.
Assuming you did manage to get Call of Duty Ghosts and Age of Empires II to work on a cheap Windows laptop (I dare you to try), both games will cost around $90 combined on Steam plus $100 for a RAM upgrade (which may not even be possible).

Watch popular movies and TV shows offline

The FUD: "Download a Hollywood movie or your favorite TV show and easily watch it offline? Not on a Chromebook."

The truth: Absolutely not true. Google Play Movies & TV lets Chromebook users save popular movies and TV shows for offline viewing, and without having to install an obtrusive Microsoft DRM scheme.

Connect to most peripheral devices

The FUD: "Chromebooks can't connect directly to many scanners or other peripheral devices you might already have."

The truth: This is true, but most likely of no consequence to anyone who did their research before they bought a Chromebook. And for the price point of a typical Chromebook, can be considered a 'compromise' worth allowing.

Choose where your documents go

The FUD: "On a Chromebook, most of your documents, pictures, videos and other files must be uploaded into the cloud. With a Windows PC, you choose where you want to put which files."

The truth: Simply. Not. True. Just like on Windows, on a Chromebook you can manage your files in the cloud, on internal storage, on external storage (such as a USB drive), on a memory card or on the network.

Total Minimum Additional Cost

$0 $659 - $2000+
This figure would easily pass the $2000 mark if you wanted retail versions of Photoshop and Office.

Summarising this table

Some other interesting facts

Common Misconceptions

Chromebooks In Education

Find out more about Chromebooks