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Software

Whether your child uses a laptop or iPad, neither device is much use without good software to run on it. When choosing what to buy, you need to assess what software your child will need and which kind of device is best suited to run those programs.

Microsoft Office

The Microsoft Office suite of programs[md]Word, Excel, and PowerPoint[md]continues to be the standard in most schools and offices around the world. In terms of use, the laptops stand out. While there are versions of Office for both Mac and Windows, the iPad can’t run Office (though it does support Google Docs and Apple’s iWork suite).

Software Compatibility

Generally speaking, laptops offer greater compatibility with the software your child needs to use for school and for fun. The iPad has a tremendous library of apps, but it hasn’t yet achieved the marketshare to have every app you could want. Like Microsoft Office, there are some important programs[md]Adobe Photoshop, for instance[md]that don’t exist for the iPad. While there are still some desirable Windows-only programs, the growing importance of the web makes the Mac vs. PC choice fairly even.

Games

If your child wants to play the latest, greatest, and most sophisticated games, a Windows laptop is the best choice. Windows gets the biggest games and gets them first. If more casual gaming is up their alley, though, the iPad with its large library of fun, cheap games is better. While they’ve made strides in recent years, Macs still aren’t great gaming machines.

Software Cost

With most of its programs costing $1-$10, the iPad is the hands-down winner on software price. Its apps tend to be more focused on a single or small set of tasks as opposed to the more comprehensive suites for Windows or Mac, but buying three $5 apps to get the same functionality as one $50 program for Windows is still cheaper.

Security

Of the three, Windows laptops have the worst security; they face the most software flaws and viruses. Macs are generally fairly secure, but the overall security leader is the iPad. There haven’t been viruses targeting it yet, and the way its operating system works makes it harder for security problems in one app to threaten the entire system.

Parental Controls

If you’re concerned about controlling what your child can do with his or her device, the iPad is your best bet. Its built-in parental controls allow you to restrict certain apps and mature-rated content in the iTunes Store. All three devices support add-on programs to give you more options (which I’d recommend), but the iPad offers greater out-of-the-box control.

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