Windows 8.1 vs Google Chrome OS review

Features and Flexibility

Chrome OS is tied to services in the cloud. This reliance on an internet connection makes it a flexible OS but can also limit its usage. Everything from your user profile, to email, calendar, contacts, bookmarks, documents and apps are all stored within your Google profile. Even your user photo, account picture and desktop background are synced. This allows you to sign into any Chromebook or Chromebox and find your personal environment waiting for you there.

Support for Google's own apps and services is baked in, so there's no need to install anything. Windows can match most of this through profile roaming, but the experience isn't as consistent. This is a real advantage if you want to move between, a Chromebox in the office and a Chromebook on the move, or if you want to use a micro-fleet of Chromebooks and hand them out as and when needed.

Chrome OS is growing more flexible too helped by the way the OS is continuously updated. You can already customise the look through Chrome themes, choose a desktop background and add tools through Chrome extensions. There are plans to enhance connection with Android phones, and even run selected Android apps within Chrome OS.

Concerns over Chrome OS remain. Printer support is restricted to Google's Cloud Print service, and while this isn't difficult to setup, you will need a supported WiFi or Ethernet-enabled printer with a live internet connection. Most new office inkjets and lasers will qualify, but the old laser printer sitting in the corner will need replacing. Many other peripherals will also be off the menu, so if your business relies on a scanner, for example, then you can't dump Windows entirely. Support is believed to be coming, but with no definite timeline.

Windows 8.1 undoubtedly has more features and and flexibility. The modern UI isn't as useful as the traditional Windows desktop, but you can alter the size and position of the live tiles, change backgrounds and pinned apps, or simply set your PC to boot to the desktop. It's easy to customise for tablets, laptops or desktops, and if you want a different browser, a different email client or a different voice and video communications app, then that's fine too. Windows 8.1 is tied into Microsoft's OneDrive cloud service, but it's not quite as locked into them. It's as happy to work with Google Drive, Google+ and Gmail, Dropbox, Box and even iCloud as it is with the Microsoft equivalents.

Winner: Windows 8.1. It's hugely customisable and can be extended to do anything you want.

Stuart Andrews

Stuart has been writing about technology for over 25 years, focusing on PC hardware, enterprise technology, education tech, cloud services and video games. Along the way he’s worked extensively with Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android and Chrome OS devices, and tested everything from laptops to laser printers, graphics cards to gaming headsets.

He’s then written about all this stuff – and more – for outlets, including PC Pro, IT Pro, Expert Reviews and The Sunday Times. He’s also written and edited books on Windows, video games and Scratch programming for younger coders. When he’s not fiddling with tech or playing games, you’ll find him working in the garden, walking, reading or watching films.

You can follow Stuart on Twitter at @SATAndrews