My three favorite Windows laptop alternatives

So the big news yesterday was, of course, the Amazon Fire TV Stick, which you still have time to get for a ridiculously low $19 — if you’re a Prime subscriber. To me it’s a no-brainer; grab one for yourself or someone on your holiday list. (You’re limited to just one, alas.)

Now that you’ve got a solid deal in your belly, let’s talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: getting away from Windows. Without getting into a big rant about it, I’ve had my fill of Microsoft’s expensive, overwrought, Jekyll-and-Hyde operating system and all the hassles that go with it.

To wit: my poor mom is constantly noting that her 2-year-old laptop takes longer and longer to boot. My poor wife recently gave up her year-old Lenovo in disgust because it would never resume properly from standby. And my neighbor just called in a panic because of a spyware invasion following her download of — wait for it — Windows Movie Maker.

And those are just other people’s problems. Over the years I’ve had more of my own than I can count. (Don’t get me started on the irrevocable Windows 8.1 update that was forced — forced! — upon me last week.) So all this is just personal bias? Yep, 100 percent. I’ve simply reached my tipping point. If you love Windows, great, very happy for you, carry on. Nothing to see here.

Me, I’ve spent the last few weeks taking hard looks at Windows alternatives. Allow me to summarize my findings:

1. Chromebooks

Early Chromebooks? I was not a fan. They felt like warmed-over Netbooks. But newer models, with faster processors, better designs, a smarter OS, and lower prices? These are growing on me. Bigtime.

In fact, I recently gave Cheapskate Jr. a Chromebook for school, and it’s been great. It boots in an instant, runs all day on a charge, and never succumbs to malware. Then I got Mrs. Cheapskate one of those HP Chromebooks that Woot has been selling. I expected something cheap and plasticky, but the build quality is downright amazing given the price,

And you know what? She loves it. It does everything she needs, way faster than her Windows laptop did, and with none of the hassles. Oh, and it was $200.

The only hiccup: printing. I have a couple older Wi-Fi printers that don’t support Google Cloud Print, so either we need a new printer or a workaround. But that’s something of an issue with my next pick as well.

2. Tablet + keyboard

Good son that I am, I just ordered my mom a refurbished iPad and keyboard case to go with it. Know why? She does word processing, e-mail, Web browsing, and a little Facebook. That’s it. A Windows-powered PC is overkill, to say nothing of rife with hassles, so why continue to deal with one? A tablet and keyboard can accomplish all those tasks (and more, natch) with superior speed and simplicity.

I really wish tablet manufacturers would get this message. We need models with bigger screens and keyboards. Why can’t I have a Chromebook equivalent that runs Android? Or iOS? Tablets run a zillion more apps than Chrome OS, plus there’s all that crazy-convenient interoperability with your phone. So many people are already embracing this concept; now we just need the hardware to catch up a little.

3. Linux

I have this great HP Pavilion dm1z laptop that’s a few years old. It was going to be Cheapskate Jr.’s school PC — right up until it stopped booting out of the blue, leaving only some vague DOS message.

So guess what: I loaded Linux on it, and now it’s a fully functional computer again. Linux is the perfect salve for an old Windows PC that’s no longer behaving itself. True, certain aspects of the operating system are complex (just deciding which version to use can be a head-scratcher), and you won’t be able to run all the same software. But it’s fast, stable, capable, and rarely (if ever) affected by malware. Total cost: zero.

(Regular readers know that one of my big bugaboos about Windows is its price. A single-user license costs $119.99. That’s not only ridiculous, it’s borderline insulting. Windows should cost $20, period.)

But what about…

Were you expecting to see a Mac on this list? Maybe someday. With MacBook Air prices now starting at $899 (less if you go refurbished), the Apple option still feels overpriced. (The aforementioned refurbished iPad Air and keyboard ran me about $350.)

I probably owe it to myself to at least try one, especially given my fondness for iPhones and iPads, but there’s still part of me that thinks the traditional desktop operating system — Mac OS included — is outdated and unnecessary. Nearly everything I want to do with a Mac or PC, I can do with a tablet.

I think that’s true for a growing number of users. And I think it’s ridiculous that in 2014, we’re still dealing with many of the same Windows afflictions that plagued us 10 years ago. The difference now is, we have a growing number of viable alternatives. I’m excited by all of them.

Your thoughts?

Bonus deal: Google Play has been quietly serving up some amazing album deals of late, and here’s the latest: Simon & Garfunkel’s 13-track “Bridge Over Trouble Water” for just 99 cents. It’s one of the all-time great albums, and I don’t think it’s ever been cheaper.

Bonus deal No. 2: Game time! Just in time for Halloween, Steam is offering Ghostbusters: The Videogame (Win) for just $2.99. This action-adventure features the voice talents of the titular ‘busters and a script penned by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. GameSpot rated it a 7 and called it “satisfying, funny, and fun.” (And, yes, I fully appreciate the irony of pimping a Windows game today. Even if you move on to something else, that old PC can still pull game duty. :)

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