Word on Chromium

We advise a PC Advisor reader who wants a basic computer and is choosing between a Windows laptop and a Google Chromebook, and explain how to use Office on a Chromebook. (For more help, see also: Living with a Chromebook: can you use a Chromebook as your only laptop?)

A reader writes: "I bought PC Advisor recently as I'm looking to purchase a computer or laptop. I don't own a tablet, as they don't support Microsoft Office or have the ability to make phone calls. I've used PCs before at work and in internet cafés mostly for email, Office applications and general web surfing.

"My PC knowledge is rather basic, but I would like to buy a machine that lasts a few years and that lets me improve my computing skills. I would like to do a lot of writing, and after looking into what is currently available I decided to opt for the Dell XPS 12. I would have gone for an Apple MacBook, but they don't have touchscreens.

"Then I came across references online to Google Chromebooks. These mentioned how reliable the devices are and that they should last for a long time. Apart from the fact that they don't have Microsoft Office they sound ideal.  

"My shortlist is now between the Dell XPS 12 and a Chromebook. Which one do you think is best for me?" (See also: Chromebook power tips: How to work smarter online and offline.)

HELPROOM ANSWER: These are two very different devices, and the best choice for you will depend almost entirely on your expected usage.

The Dell XPS 12 runs a full copy of Windows 8.1 and will do everything you would expect from a PC, running any Windows applications you like – including Microsoft Office.

The Chromebook Pixel (tinyurl.com/ksguul3) on the other hand is a far simpler device, which relies very much on accessing the cloud both for storage and for most applications. You can't install Office on a Chromebook, but if you purchase an Office 365 subscription, you can sign in from your Chromebook and use the Office Web apps.

The obvious alternative to Microsoft Office on the Chromebook is to use Google Docs (docs.google.com) instead. This is compatible with most Microsoft Office files, and although far less sophisticated, it provides most of the core functions you're likely to need. For more advice, see also: Living with a Chromebook: can you use a Chromebook as your only laptop?

See all How to articles. Get free tech support in the Helproom Forum.

Visit Windows 7 Advisor and Windows 8 Advisor for more Windows advice. Or email our Helproom Editor for bespoke advice.