Yes you can use the new Chromebook offline

Summary:Start talking about the Chrome OS and you get a knee-jerk reaction from many that Chrome OS is useless without a web connection. That is no longer true.

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Talk to 10 people about using the Chromebook and odds are a good 5 or 6 of them will remark that they can't try the Chrome OS since it's useless offline. I spend a lot of time explaining how that is no longer true. It's clear Google isn't getting the word out about using the Chromebook offline.

"The Chromebook looks really nice but I can't buy something I can only use online". That's how many conversations about Chromebooks begin. Most people don't realize that while Chrome OS is designed for work online, it's a cloud solution after all, many key functions now work without a web connection.

Gmail offline
Gmail offline

You can view and edit many files in your Google Drive even without a web connection, which is pretty powerful. This edit capability includes PDFs, Microsoft Office files, and images.

Gmail and doc editing

Google has created a Gmail Offline web app that allows working with email offline much the same as other email solutions. The app lets you read email and compose new messages that are automatically sent the next time your Chromebook is connected to the web. The interface is similar to Gmail mobile apps.

Google Docs is the cloud office suite from Google that has grown in popularity in recent years. It provides a rich word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation application, and stores all documents in the cloud. That cloud storage is what scares people about using a Chromebook. There is a fear that documents are inaccessible when no web connection is available.

That used to be true but no longer as Google documents and spreadsheets are available for viewing offline. Documents can be edited offline and have changes synced when a connection is available. Note that while Microsoft Office docs can be accessed in Google Docs, only genuine Google Docs are accessible offline using the Google Docs app.

Most Google Docs users are familiar with Google Drive, the cloud storage service from Google. It's where those Google Docs are stored in the cloud, along with other types of files, making them accessible from any device with Google Drive capability. The Chromebook is certainly one of those devices, and Google has even made the Drive accessible when offline.

Google Drive offline
Google Drive offline

You can view and edit many files in your Google Drive even without a web connection, which is pretty powerful. This edit capability includes PDFs, Microsoft Office files, and images on the Google Drive. When you reconnect to the web all changes are synced, with a timestamp, to the cloud version. Note you must enable offline use in the Google Drive settings for each device.

Apps, lots of apps

Web apps are programs that make the Chrome browser, and the Chromebook by extension, a very powerful environment. There are thousands of Chrome apps in the Chrome Web Store. As useful as these apps are, they are web apps so useless offline, right? Not at all.

Chrome offline apps

Google has provided developers with the ability to make Chrome web apps work offline. Not all apps are designed for offline use, but there are hundreds of them. You can check the offline category in the Chrome web store to see these apps in one place. At the time of this writing there are at least a thousand offline-capable web apps in the store.

The offline-ready apps range from productivity apps to games. Many apps let you capture web pages for reading later, even offline. The New York Times app is a good example of an offline app as you can capture the current issue of the NYT for reading offline. There is even a Kindle app with offline capability.

Not every app can be used offline so you should check if the ones you need have the capability. Quite a few of them are offline-capable.

Music and movies

Aside from using Google Docs, accessing information in a Google Drive, and working with Gmail, Chromebooks have the ability to access files stored locally on SD cards and USB flash drives. Any file stored locally can be used offline just as they can when connected. You can listen to music files and watch movies stored locally. This is much the same as any system or tablet.

Google realized that everyone can't have web connectivity every minute, so Chrome OS had to have offline capabilities. The offline capabilities covered in this article show that quite a lot is possible using a Chromebook even when the web is not available. While it may not be quite as capable as other disconnected platforms, Chrome OS now goes a long way to keep Chromebook users busy when offline.

Chromebooks and Chrome OS are not for everyone, but with accurate information folks can decide if it will work for them. It works beautifully for me and I suspect it will work well for many. While not everything can be done on a Chromebook while offline, many functions can.

When was the last time your computer was offline, anyway? Probably doesn't happen all that often.

See related:

Topics: Laptops, Google, Samsung

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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