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How to Work Offline on a Chromebook

chromebook-offline-error

Contrary to all the criticism out there, a Chromebook can be surprisingly useful offline. The key to using a Chromebook offline is preparing ahead of time and ensuring your apps and data will be ready.

Sure, a Chromebook is more useful when you’re online, but that applies to all computers these days. A Chromebook’s offline mode can get you through a flight, subway ride, or some other period of time without Internet access.

Install New Chrome Apps

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Google’s new Chrome Apps — formerly known as “packaged apps” — are designed to be offline-first. These apps come from the Chrome Web Store and consist of HTML, JavaScript, and other web technologies in a downloadable package. The app runs entirely offline by default, synchronizing with the Internet. If it can’t synchronize, it will just use the last synchronized data and sync any new data when you next go online.

Google’s own Google Keep app is a good example of a Chrome packaged app direct from Google. This notes app runs in a window on your Chrome OS desktop. Open it when you’re offline and it will appear just as if you were online, displaying all your notes. You’re free to use the app normally, writing new notes and editing existing notes. When you reconnect to the Internet, the app will sync all your changes with Google and download any new notes. Other apps work similarly. For example, the Any.do and Wunderlist apps give you an offline task list that functions in the same way.

Some apps even allow you to work with offline files. For example, Caret is an offline graphical text and code editor with syntax highlighting. It will allow you to work with code files offline or just have an powerful text editor for editing files stored on your Chromebook.

For a complete list of packaged apps, look at the For Your Desktop section on the Chrome Web Store.

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Download and Work With Files

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Your Chromebook includes a variety of offline file viewers, so you can view a variety of different document and media formats when offline. For example, you could download video files to watch offline, download MP3s to play offline, download PDFs and other documents to read offline,  download pictures to view offline, and so on.

After downloading files, you’ll find them in your Files app. Double-click them in the Files app and they’ll appear in the appropriate built-in viewer application.

Set Up Old Offline Apps

New-style Chrome apps offer the best offline experience, but Google hasn’t yet migrated all their old apps to new Chrome apps. Some Google services and third-party apps still require you set them up in the original way.

  • Gmail: Install the Gmail Offline app from the Chrome Web Store. It will automatically sync new mail in the background. You can read your email and compose new emails when offline and the app will send them when you reconnect. Note that the Gmail Offline app is separate from the standard Gmail app and has a different interface.
  • Google Calendar: Install the Google Calendar app. Click the gear on the Google Calendar website and click Offline to enable offline support. You can then visit the Google Calendar website and view your calendar events while offline.
  • Google Docs: Install the Google Drive app. Click the More option on the left side of the Google Drive website and click Offline. Follow the instructions to set up offline access, which will allow you to view, edit and create documents while offline. Just visit the Google Drive website while offline.
  • Kindle: Install Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader app and launch it. It will prompt you to set up offline access so you can download and read eBooks to your Chromebook for use offline.
  • Angry Birds: Install the Angry Birds app and open it. It will install its data locally so you can play Angry Birds when you don’t have an Internet connection.

You’ll probably want to disconnect from the Internet after setting up these apps and test them to make sure they work, as they can be a bit temperamental in our experience.

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Use a Linux Desktop

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If you’re a power user, you can get a more full-featured offline experience by putting your Chromebook into developer mode and installing a full Linux desktop system. This gives you access to any Linux desktop or terminal application that runs offline.

This option isn’t intended for casual Chromebook users, but Linux geeks who want access to a full Linux desktop environment or suite of command-line tools while offline will appreciate having the option. While online, the SSH command can be used to access remote Linux terminal environments without putting the Chromebook into developer mode.

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In the future, Chrome Apps should simplify this process. Having to set up offline access in three different ways for Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs isn’t an ideal experience.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 12/30/13

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