So, you need to pick an operating system
Windows 10 has arrived, with plenty of promises to fix all the woes that mucked up the experience with Windows 8. But no number of improvements is going to make the bad memories of the Start screen go away. Then there's the matter of whether Cortana, Xbox streaming or Windows 10 other features are high on your priority list.
However you – or we, having thrown it 4.5 stars – feel about the new Windows, there are plenty of reasons to ignore Microsoft's latest operating system altogether. Both Google Chrome OS and Apple OS X have proved to be exceptional options.
Whether it's the easy usability of OS X Yosemite or the lightweightness of Chrome, both offer plenty of advantages to make either your operating system of choice. We've seen what Windows 10 holds over its competitors, so let's play devil's advocate and look at the key ways that Google and Apple each have honed an edge up on Microsoft's latest operating system.
Apple OS X
Apple and Microsoft have been going head to head, and while Macs have historically been the underdog in this race they're very popular among creatives and students. MacBooks are by far some of the prettiest laptops with an unbeatable build quality. What's more, OS X comes packed with useful applications, free updates to newer versions and fewer security headaches than Windows.
Apple's unified mobile and desktop platform
Apple has done plenty to tie its platforms together. Thanks to Handoff, you can easily transition from your life on the iPad and iPhone to the computer, or vice versa. For example, with Safari (or even Chrome) you'll see an icon pop up on your dock when you have a web page open. Just click that if you want to continue reading that page on your Mac.
Yes, other browsers offer syncing tools, but thanks to Continuity, this process is much faster and rather easy to switch over between devices. Then there's also iMessage and Facetime, which let you keep a conversation going across an iPhone, iPad or Mac with ease.
On Windows 10, you can migrate seamlessly between desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone through Universal apps. But, while you can work across Windows 10 devices with everything synced in OneDrive, Microsoft is still working on fleshing out its suite of apps – including those for video and messaging.
If you want the full-fat multi-platform experience, the Handoff and Continuity features built into Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite are your best bet for now.
Simple, free updates
One of the best things about being a Mac user is not having to worry about paying for operating system updates. Thanks to the recent string of free upgrades that started with Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks, it costs zilch to make sure your Mac is running on the latest OS complete with all the new features.
Windows 10, meanwhile, will only be free for a year for those upgrading from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. However, further updates to Windows 10 issued online will be free. That's a bit more confusing than Apple, which simply limits its free updates to a subset of older computers dating back as far as seven years ago.
While Microsoft plans to make Windows 10 its main focus for the next five year with free updates of all sizes, including new features, but who knows whether its successor will roll out with a similar free upgrade path.
OS X is tops at gestures
One of the reasons it's so fast to work in OS X is that Apple has built in so many touch gestures into the Mac's excellent trackpad. It's lightning-fast to move from one app to another or to launch Mission Control with a quick swipe. Windows 10 is still trying to catch up in the trackpad quality department by introducing more gesture commands, like three-finger swipe to activate the new Task View.
Microsoft is also working with its manufacturer partners more closely than ever through its Precision Touchpad initiative. Apple, meanwhile, has been the king of trackpads for years, with smooth as butter scrolling and perfect sensitivity right out of the box.
Bundled software you'll actually use
OS X also comes bundled with useful applications, like Photos for editing images, Garage Band for musicians. Apple even includes a fully-featured iWork productivity suite with apps for drafting word documents, creating presentations and crunching numbers.
Windows 10, on the other hand, includes a Universal (formerly known as the mobile) version of the Microsoft Office suite. But there's a catch: you'll need an Office 365 subscription to actually edit any documents on any Windows 10 device larger than 10.1-inches.
OS X El Capitan is around the bend
Microsoft isn't the only one with a new operating system coming out this year, Apple also has plans to update it desktops and laptops with OS X 10.11 El Capitan. Though it looks to be light on radically new features, El Capitan promises to improve user experience and performance, including a larger focus on window management and multitasking
The next version of OS X will also introduce window snapping and a revamped multi-desktop management system called Spaces Bar. At the same time, under-the-hood additions, like Metal graphics technology, will enhance the gaming capability of Macs and make everyday activities, like launching apps, even faster.
Now, it's fair to say that Windows has offered some of these desktop management features since Vista, like window snapping. However, their inclusion in El Capitan makes OS X feel more feature-complete in area where it has long been inferior to Windows, thus leveling the playing field.
Living on the Cloud with Chrome OS
Chromebooks are still relatively new to the block after being first introduced at Google I/O in 2011. Despite being around for less than five years, they've completely flipped the script on what we think about cheap laptops. For less than 300 smackers, you can get a fully functioning machine for browsing the web and editing documents.
Chromebooks are cheap
Whether you're looking for an inexpensive, fully-featured laptop or a second machine, Chromebooks are extremely affordable. Just $249/£219 (about AU$342) will easily get you a leatherette-bound Samsung Chromebook 2.
Not only is this a fraction of the price of the average Windows laptop or MacBook, these Chromebooks don't feel cheap or chintzy either. Chromebooks have even diversified, with an all-metal, convertible Asus Chromebook Flip or the 15-inch powerhouse Acer Chromebook 15 C910.
But, speaking of which, Acer has just released a new Windows 10 Aspire One Cloudbook packing similar, if not identical, hardware as a Chromebook for $169 (about £108, AU$232). While this 11-inch machine is even cheaper than most Chromebooks, we'll have to see how well Windows 10 runs with limited resources. You can almost be sure Chromebooks will have better battery life, thanks to Chrome OS being a more lightweight operating system.
Easy account sync
While Windows has vastly improved its cloud capabilities with OneDrive, no one beats Google when it comes to keeping essential account details in sync. Once you sign in with your Google account, your history, recent tabs, apps, and most essential details make themselves right at home.
While no one would want lose their computer or have it accidentally fall into a pond, it is reassuring to know all your data is safely synced up in the Google Cloud. Aside from giving you protection against any unfortunate catastrophes, having practically all your data live in the cloud means there's little-to-no maintenance when it's time for a new computer.
When it comes to Windows, you'll have to be much more vigilant in backing up your data even with the handy built-in tools. Additionally, setting up again on a new Windows machine requires more steps, including reinstalling programs and tweaking settings in the Control Panel. With Chrome OS, you can simply log in, sit back and let everything set up on its own.
Chrome OS is extremely secure
Chrome OS is currently, without a doubt, one of the safer operating systems in the world. For starters, Chrome OS by design prevents most native applications from being installed, which makes it immune to many malicious email attachments or web pages attempting to infect your system with a virus pretending to install itself as a legitimate application.
Additionally, Google's cloud-based platform encrypts all your files, which prevents hackers from sniffing out your data over the Internet or even if they physically steal your laptop – that is, unless you've accidentally given out your password. Similarly, OneDrive will encrypt your data while it's both in transit as well as files stored on Microsoft's Cloud platform.
Despite this similarity, by likely garnering a dominant slice of the PC and laptop market, Windows 10 could soon be a naturally larger target for hacking and viruses than either Chrome OS and OS X combined. Purely based on where the majority of hackers are expected to lurk (where the most targets are), going with either alternative could be a safer bet.
Remote Desktop is Chrome's killer hidden feature
Remote Desktop is one of Chrome's most underrated features. It allows you to control other computers securely or use another device to control your Chromebook. You just need to install the Remote Desktop app on any computer you want to control and you're in business. For example, it would be perfect when you need to queue up a download away from home or when your parents call (again) in need of computer troubleshooting.
On Windows, a few applications allow you to remotely control your PC, such as telling Steam to download games. But in the end, the ability to control a Windows 10 machine is much more piece meal compared to the complete access Chrome OS (or the Chrome browser) offers.