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Installing an operating system - laptops only

After being wiped, laptops often require a new operating system (OS). An operating system is software which controls a device's hardware and enables other software to run, most commonly Windows, iOS or Chrome OS. 

 At the end of this step, you’ll be able to choose between the following operating systems and understand the pros and cons of each:

  • Chrome OS through CloudReady OS
  • Windows OS
  • Mac OS

Key insights

  • Smartphones/tablets

    These come with an operating system (OS) that’s hard installed. Providing the device has been factory reset before donation, no further action is required during this step.

  • Free or paid for

    Microsoft Windows is an advanced OS, but you’ll need to install a new paid for licence. CloudReady is a free OS from Neverware which turns laptops into Chromebooks using CloudReady’s technology which is free to install. Mac OS is also an advanced operating system. It is automatically installed on Macbooks so no new licences are needed. The more advanced operating systems are difficult to support if there are installation issues, so we recommend only using these if you have access to specialist IT skills. Unless your recipients have a specific need for Windows, or will receive a Macbook, we recommend you install CloudReady.

The right operating systems for your recipients

Option 1. Turning laptops into Chromebooks

Many schools use Google Classroom. This runs on the Chrome OS. Rather than buy Google’s own laptops – called Chromebooks – you can give a laptop the same functionality by installing CloudReady, a free OS which turns any laptop into a Chromebook. It’s available for nearly all laptops up to seven years old. 


  • It’s free!
  • It’s easily set up using a memory stick. All you need is a Gmail account and 40 minutes set-up time per laptop


  • Chromebooks have less features than Windows but that can be an advantage for less IT literate recipients

Option 2. Using other operating systems

Using other operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, provides more advanced capabilities. Unfortunately, these operating systems can be more difficult and time-consuming to set up, particularly on older devices. If you want to use Windows OS, we recommend working with a specialist computer company unless you have the necessary IT expertise.

Microsoft Windows costs between £12-£15 for a charity licence, per device. Mac laptops do not require an additional OS licence after refurbishment.


  • Microsoft Windows is widely used so many potential recipients will be familiar with it
  • Advanced operating systems have more features, this can be important if the recipient is using the laptop for education or skills building


  • More expensive
  • The installation process can be longer and more difficult.

Things to think about

  • Budget

    Do you have the budget to install Windows on laptops? The costs will soon add up if you don’t have financial support.

  • Capabilities

    CloudReady is a more basic system but it is easy to use and will suit many inexperienced recipients. Don’t forget that standardising your OS can make it easier to provide ongoing support.

  • Simplicity

    Installing CloudReady turns a laptop into a Chromebook in minutes. Installing Windows can take a few hours on older machines. Mac OS can only be used on Macbooks. If you want to use Windows on a laptop, you may need the help of IT professionals.

Next Step

Getting devices ‘recipient ready’

Once your devices have been restored, it’s time to get them ‘recipient ready’. This involves setting up the necessary apps and accounts and ensuring each device has the accessories needed to make it functional.


Ready to get started?

If you’re interested in setting up a Reboot project, why not download the full Reboot playbook? Regardless of your budget and IT skills, it will help you develop a well-structured Reboot process and maximise your donations!