Do you need software that only runs on Windows?

Answer: Yes - You need a Windows PC

Answer: No - Consider: Chromebase, Chromebook, iPad, Kindle Fire, Android Tablets

Pitfall: I bet you said "Yes" because you use Word, Excel and PowerPoint (because that what everyone says to me). If so go to the bottom of the class, you are confusing two different things. Word, Excel and PowerPoint are programs produced by Microsoft. Only Microsoft make these programs and they control which computers they run on (current Windows PC, Macs and iPads, with Android Tablets to follow soon). However, any software company can write a program that can read and write the same files as Microsoft programs and exactly what lots of companies have done, there are loads of different option.

Here's how it typically goes: Person walks into a shop and asks "can this tablet run Microsoft Word". "No" answers shop assistant. Person buys a Windows Laptop instead with all the security problems that creates (person in shop makes more commission than it would have done selling the tablet). Here's how it should go: Person walks into a shop and says "can this tablet open and edit all my existing Word files and create new ones that I can send to friends, just the same as if I have a laptop with Windows on it?". "Yes" says shop assistant. Have a look in the apps store, there are all sorts of programs for doing that sort of thing. Try a few and see which one you like.

Having said all of that maybe you do have a piece of software that you absolute must have and it only runs on Windows. If that's the case, go see our section on how to buy and how to protect a Windows PC. But before you do, make sure that you really do need that specific piece of software. May people say to me, for example, they have to run Family Tree Maker, because they have invested zillion of hours in genealogy. What they really mean is they want to keep their family tree, not that they need that particular piece of software, that just habit. They could, for example, upload all their files to and access it from any device that can see a web page. The piece of software is not that important, the data is the important thing and you need to ask if you can carry that across to a new type of machine.

Think you have something that will not run on an alternative, pop over to our forums and challenge all, see if they can come up with a solution.

Does it have to be portable?

Answer: Yes - Consider: iPad, Kindle Fire, Chromebook, Android Tablets

Answer: No - Consider: Chromebase, Chromebook, iPad, Kindle Fire, Android Tablets

Pitfall: I have set up many a laptop that never move. Sometimes I can go back years afterwards, lift it up and there's a dust shadow under it, its never budged a millimetre. So why did these folks buy a laptop? Because its what you do, everyone knows that. Ask your brother-in-law who "knows about computers" what to get, he will say a laptop. It's what he's always had, it would not occur to him that there is other options. And yet... a laptop is not the right solution for everybody. I remember a system I set up for guy with serious eyesight problems, we had a 55" screen for his monitor, a high visibility keyboard, a mouse with a magnifier button built in. All sorts of tricks to make it work for him (even then it was touch and go). Son-in-law came over and said "should have got a laptop". Seriously, he just couldn't see that there was any other option.

Portability is very useful, but it does not come for free. You pay the price in two ways: screen size and posture. Generally the bigger the screen the better for viewing websites, emails, pictures and anything else. But big is the enemy of portable, so laptops have small screens. Posture is more of a problem than you might think. Laptops force you to sit in a crunched position (low screens, keyboard close to the screen), do that for any period of time and you will run up a bill with the chiropractor. You need something more comfortable, unless you only using it a little bit. Something like a Chromebase lets you sit up straight in front of a nice big, clear screen.

The other reason people get laptops, is because there're neat. The get rid of all the nasty leads you get on a old fashioned desktop PC. Of course a Chromebase or a tablet will do exactly the same thing, neat, neat neat.

The sharp eyed reader will have noticed that I made a case for a big screen if you do not need to be portable and then included tablets in the list of computers you should consider, even if you do not need to be portable. Surely a contradiction in turns? Surely a contradiction in terms in terms? Maybe, I still think it is worth looking at both types. A tablet is a wonderful piece of equipment, a delight to use and if you want a big screen, hold it closer to your eyes. I know that sounds flippant, but it does work surprising well.

The other thing to consider, is having more than one device. A laptop tries to be everything to everyone in one box. The net result (as usual with such things) it is not the best at any one job. Traditional computers were expensive things. When I went to a house there was only one and the family queued up to use it. Now folks have tablets, laptops, smartphones and even the TV will surf the internet. It perfectly ok to plan to replace your current computer with two devices, one thats idea for being at home, one that's ideal for moving around (even if only from the couch to your bed).