Surface Laptop Studio HeroSource: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central

Microsoft's Windows and Google's Chrome OS are the two most popular desktop operating systems in the world. Both run on similar laptops nowadays, with the days of only super-cheap Chromebooks behind us. You could very well see an almost identical laptop side by side, one with Windows 11 and one with Chrome OS.

That makes it worth considering the merits of each since it's more likely than ever that an average laptop buyer might well be choosing between the two platforms and trying to decide which is best for them.

Even though Chrome OS has come a long way, it's still a different beast to Windows 11. For some, it might be everything they need, for others, still lacking.

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Windows 11 vs. Chrome OS: Hardware support

ChromebookSource: Windows Central

One clear difference between the two operating systems is the hardware support. Even though Windows 11 has some fairly stringent requirements, like the much-discussed TPM 2.0 support, with Windows and a Windows laptop or desktop there is an added freedom you don't get with Chrome OS.

You can put Windows 11 on almost any laptop sold within the last few years, and likewise, desktops, whether pre-built or custom. If you're OK doing it "unsupported" you can install it on machines that don't meet the hardware requirements, too.

If you buy a Chromebook that's basically what it is. If you decide you don't like it and want Windows instead, you're basically buying a new PC. There are ways and means of wiping Chrome OS and installing alternative operating systems, but it's a pretty involved process and not something the average user will want to undertake.

If you're buying a new laptop, though, there are really good choices on both sides. Chromebook hardware has really come on in the last couple of years, with even high-end laptops now boasting Chrome OS, using both Intel and AMD chips. There are limitations, of course, like there are no "gaming Chromebooks," and as such if you're a gamer you'll always be going Windows.

Windows 11 vs. Chrome OS: Design and user experience

Windows 11 Start MenuSource: Windows Central

The two operating systems have their own visual identity, with Windows 11 getting a sizeable overhaul when compared to Windows 10. It's a lot more pleasing to look at, with both smaller and larger details contributing to the overall effect. But Windows is still plagued by a mishmash of old and new, with legacy menus that still look fresh out of the Windows Vista area jarring to stumble upon.

Chrome OS, too, has evolved a lot over the years, and you could say it combines a traditional desktop experience with something you might find on a mobile device. The taskbar, or "Shelf," can be used to pin favorite apps, just the same as Windows, but instead of a Start menu there's an app drawer. This is particularly useful on touch-enabled devices.

Chrome OS has always been good for lighter needs and workflows, and that still continues today. The user interface is extremely streamlined, and there aren't many background processes bogging things down. Android will use up a good chunk of system resources, so it should be disabled if you're not using it, but aside from that, it's a very lightweight and sprightly OS. This is remarkable enough considering Chrome browser's RAM usage on Windows is a bit of a meme.

Windows 11 is very similar to Windows 10 but with a more pleasing user interface. But the prettiness does hide some issues, like removal of features from the taskbar and Start menu, and under the hood, there are still a lot of background processes running even when you're doing absolutely nothing. It's easier for a Windows 11 PC to feel a bit bogged down, but then it's also a lot more capable in terms of what you can actually get done.

Windows 11 vs. Chrome OS: Android apps for all

Windows 11 Android App StoreSource: Microsoft

One of Chrome OS's signature features will, at some point, also be a part of Windows 11. Android app support will come to Windows 11 in a different form to Chrome OS, but the end result is the same: Android apps on your laptop or desktop.

For Chrome OS, a version of Android is baked into the operating system and with the Google Play Store, you have at your disposal the largest catalog of Android apps there is. And as it has matured, a number of apps have been updated to be optimized for a Chromebook. It's yet to be seen whether Windows 11 will get similar treatment.

Windows 11 will be using the Amazon App Store, which just isn't as good. It doesn't matter how you look at it, the Play Store is where it's at if you want Android apps. We don't really know for sure yet what else the Windows Subsystem for Android will allow, but if you're desperate to do some Snapchat on your PC, you probably can.

Both operating systems also support use on tablets, with Chrome OS possibly getting the edge in the user-friendliness count. But when it comes to using Android apps, you won't be limited to a mouse and keyboard on either.

Chrome OS is more than just a web browser

PowershellSource: Windows Central

If you're thinking that Chrome OS is just a laptop with the Google Chrome browser on it then you're wrong. Granted, the Chrome browser is still a focal point, but Chrome OS is much, much more than that.

Obviously, we've already talked about Android, but Chrome OS also has a full Linux virtual machine within it as well, allowing you to run Linux applications both with graphical interfaces and within a terminal environment. It has its limitations, but Google continues to improve it, and it plugs a gap if Chrome OS doesn't have the software you need.

It's also not necessary to run Chrome OS online, even if you're using an online service like Google Docs. Many services have offline support, and when you are online you're seamlessly integrated into the Google cloud.

Chrome OS is also useful if you're a developer. You don't have everything you might need as you would on Windows 11, but you can run VSCode and other popular coding apps on Chrome OS and build yourself a great workflow. Chrome OS can also run Windows, admittedly in virtual form and in limited capacity right now, but with help from Parallels, Chrome OS is getting close to being an operating system for everyone.

Chrome OS also comes with access to the Google Assistant, the same as you might be using on your smartphone. It's not even a competition when it comes to comparing Google Assistant with Cortana, especially since in most parts of the world the latter is already dead. But it does open up access to all your Google Assistant skills and voice commands from your Chromebook.

Windows 11 runs basically everything

Windows 11 Start Surfacepro LightingSource: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central

The advantage of Windows 11 is that it runs basically everything. As by far the most used desktop operating system on the planet, if you need a piece of software for something there's a strong chance you'll find it on Windows.

The new Microsoft Store on Windows 11 is becoming a home for all kinds of applications, but of course, you're not limited to what you find there. Services like the Windows Package Manager can make installing software en masse a breeze, and of course, you can download directly from source.

Windows 11 also has added strength in its choice of browser. Microsoft Edge is the "recommended" choice, and the new version shares a lot of its underlying tech with Google Chrome. But while running alternative browsers is possible on Chrome OS, it's far from an ideal experience.

Then you have games. Chrome OS can make use of cloud services like Xbox Game Pass and Google Stadia, as well as Android games, but that's about it. There are no Chrome OS machines with dedicated graphics, so if you want native PC gaming you're still going to need to get Windows right now.

The beauty of Windows 11 when it comes to software compatibility is that you really don't have to think about it. If you need something, it's there. That now includes Linux, too, with GUI apps supported in the latest versions of the Windows Subsystem for Linux.

Summary

You could spend hours going into all the little differences between Windows 11 and Chrome OS, but there's really no need. If you're the sort of person who already relies on Windows for the software it gives access to or for gaming, then Chrome OS won't be enough to tempt you away. Likewise, if you're immersed in the Microsoft ecosystem, Windows is naturally a better fit.

Chrome OS comes into its own for lighter use cases still and is arguably a better choice for those looking to buy a budget laptop. With modern Chromebooks, it's possible to get nice hardware at an affordable price, and the OS is flexible enough to grow as your use case might do.

Windows 11 is all around more capable though, but it's a very different beast in the grand scheme of things.