Yes you can use the new Chromebook offline

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.

TOPICS: Laptops, Google, Samsung
Side by side (300x228)

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

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • ??

    Play popular games?
    Install apps from a CD / DVD?
    Connect to a domain?
    Compile code on it?

    I also have a problem with a few of your statements....

    1 - "You can view and edit many files in your Google Drive even without a web connection, which is pretty powerful"

    Erm, not it isnt it just stores them locally and in the cloud and then syncs the latest version something which has been around for years. In fact my XP machines were doing it in my domain back in 2003.

    2 - "Web apps are programs that make the Chrome browser, and the Chromebook by extension, a very powerful environment."

    How is this different than any tablet, PC or Phone? I know you like Chromebooks... but you are making out as if these are amazing features not available on other systems.

    Lets face it, Chromebooks are basically restricted Android tablets in laptop form. What can you do with a chrome book that you can't do with a Nexus tab or kindle Tab?
    • I agree with danjames2012

      when Ipad was released, they said it was a content consumer but not a content producer. What cromebook essentially trying to say is that you can produce content like documents, or some other thing using web apps. But they are called web apps for a reason, they require processing power of cloud which means internet-on.

      If it is offline, it is just a tablet.

      However, the difference that Google is trying to sell is that if you are online, you dont need to resident processing power to work/produce content.

      This article should point that out.
      Sai Krishna Vajjala
      • ChromeOS fans never wrote any serious web apps

        And the author clearly has not. They don't know how hard it is to code a fine web app on par with a native app. It'd usually require three times (or more) as much engineering effort to pull it off as web apps are hard to develop, debug and maintain. Often times it's down right impossible as HTML is still lacking despite all the promises (Can you do a video sharing in HTML for example?).

        In a world of competition for great UX, how could such inadequate platform thrive? It cannot, and it's proved by lack of business interest. The open committee approach makes any fast measure to fix its sorrow state impossible so all you get is empty hype from the media and a mediocre device.
        • Answering the three stooges:

          Stooge #3:
          You obviously don't have a clue about writing any kind of serious app. Just as Windows users don't develop apps but use them, Chrome OS fans don't write apps, developers do. ChromeOS fans use them. Neither would you expect blog authors or journalists to write serious web applications.

          Serious HTML5 applications require skill and expertise, and serious Windows applications aren't a piece of cake either. They are a job for developers, or those with a serious and deep interest. With regard to video sharing in HTML, Youtube does a pretty good job of it - all in HTML.
      • Answering the three stooges:

        Stooge #2:
        HTML5 has features built in that allows offline resources to be stored locally. Javascript, and Native Client applications are very powerful programming environments which can do everything local applications can do, subject to Internet security restrictions. Chrome also has a desktop app mode which behaves more like a desktop app in that it acts like a desktop app, and circumvents some of the Internet security restrictions that apply to web apps.

        They are called web apps because they either connect to the web to interchange data, or because they download Javascript or Native Client code from the Internet.

        If you want to understand that web apps can work without any Internet connection and just what the local code can do, just install one of the offline Chrome games - eg. Angry Birds.
    • Answering the three stooges.

      Stooge #1:
      1) Saving or syncing to a file server on Windows XP with briefcase is manual and very crude. Google drive is transparent and automatic. Unlike Windows you don't finish editing, save the file locally and then upload the whole file. Google drive and offline web save edits (only the characters typed, not the whole document) every few seconds up to the cloud as you update a document, and if you have a poor or intermittent or broken connection, caches the changes locally and syncs them up to the cloud transparently in the background when the connection is restored as you continue to work. In Windows you edit a file locally, save it locally close the file, then you upload or sync it manually. In Chromebooks it all happens while you continue working without you having having to know anything about it or having to do anything.

      2. It is very different from other browsers other than the Chrome browser running on tablets, PC, or phone. Chrome packaged apps are a specification which allows local data and resources to be stored locally to allow HTML 5 applications to run offline.

      By the way Chromebooks are not Android tablets.
    • Answer:

      Typing. I can't imagine righting a paper on a nexus 7, iPad, or even the surface, sorry I don't have little hands that can type on cramped keyboards.
    • What can you do with a chrome book that you can't do with Nexus or kindle?

      Um... type on an actual keyboard, for one.
      Jim Lady
      • Answer:

        Bluetooth keyboard.
        • ?

          mo money money mo money!
    • ?

  • 1984Book

    The Chromebook is what an oppressive dictatorship would "give" to the heathens. It is NOT a general purpose computer and Google can ALWAYS track you on it.

    If I am wrong, answer these questions:

    1. Can you sign-out of Google on Chromebook or prevent their cookies and logging another way, by this I mean COMPLETELY get Google out of your business?
    2. Does the device recognize standard USB peripherals such as hard disk drives and large capacity flash drives, or printers, digital cameras, video cameras, scanners, external high-quality microphones, or external speakers, keyboards, and mouse/trackpads?

    If not, then what you got is a machine for malware magnets, old people, and little kids. Sure it might be fun for the techies but only until a function they need is not possible.

    I'd rather get a Windows 8 touchscreen laptop. With Windows 8 I can get all the Windows functionality that there is, which is EVERYTHING that is available on any computer ever made + the new Windows Store and new Metro apps + the Start menu back because third-parties like Samsung will provide it ie S-Launcher + I can install Linux in a virtual machine + AMD and Bluestacks will have AMD AppPlayer which will allow Android on Windows 8 touchscreen devices in a big way 500,000+ full screen apps+ can use other app stores such as Intels AppUp + OnLive (if they don't go out of business) + if get a powerful laptop it can play any game available ie Steam platform etc.

    In short, the functionality is endless with Windows, it is a GENERAL-PURPOSE computer that can have maxed out power such as powerful CPUs, lots of RAM, and big hard drives. This Chromebook is a toy or starter machine.
    • Answers

      1. Yes - you can use the incognito mode.

      2. Yes it does recognise standard USB devices.
    • Where?

      Where am I going to find a Windows 8 laptop for $249? Yes, I would rather have a Ferrari too, but sometime you don't need all that speed and can't justify the price. It is all about price/functionality. If ChromeBook doesn't do what you need, then don't buy one, but it is no reason to bash it or those that want to buy one. It seems like they will fit the needs of many people, but of course not all.
  • thanks

    I had not realized a lot of this but should have given how I can sync via Google Drive a dedicated folder on my Windows laptop with a folder on Google Drive. I have two types of difficulties in making a Chromebook my next laptop given my Sony Vaio is dying:

    1. Even though you explain a lot about local offline work, I wonder how easy it is in practice to draw the line after many years of local storage being the focus. How much can I store locally and work on (thinking here about Google Docs) and how much has to stay "in the cloud"?

    2. I use Windows iTunes to manage multiple devices for my family and several of us have iPhones and iPods. Even though I rarely buy stuff from iTunes (I use eMusic mostly) I still like the central management dashboard for music and podcasts that iTunes provides. I would be giving that up by going with the Chromebook, I assume. I know there are alternatives in the Android/Chrome world but the hassle factor would be substantial and potentially insurmountable.
  • Nice, but limited

    Yes, inability to connect to common types of network shares is a big drawback. Some network storage products them have https interfaces, but IME they're limited compared to browsing a network share natively.

    Also, Chromebooks are unlikely to be able to connect to a company VPN.

    Nice hardware - good keyboard and excellent touchpad with better multitouch than any Windows laptop I've tried. At this price I am tempted. But make no mistake, these are purely for home use. I'm surprised that anyone could use a Chromebook as their sole computer. I guess if you're self-employed and don't ever have to connect to company networks or use their VPNs? And you don't have NAS storage at home or anything.
  • 1984Book part 2

    Oh, and a Windows 8 computer can run Chrome better than a Chromebook. Enough said, faster CPU, more memory, and larger storage.
    • And that Windows 8 computer

      with a faster CPU, higher SSD storage, will cost you more than 250$.
      Michael Alan Goff
      • Why do you need an SSD

        Also ... who needs a Samsung SSD drive .... they suck (so does Samsung HDDs)

        You can get a more powerful LAPTOP for $50 more .... and if you don't like Windows, just install Linux. Regardless of what you think .... a full blown OS with software that works OFF-LINE is always going to be better than a web-appliance with a keyboard.
        • 5400RPM, what is this 2004?

          I'll just let that comment about the #1 memory supplier in the world sucking slide for a moment to comment on the rest of the uninformed mess that you call a statement. For a laptop that costs $50 more, you WILL have a 5400RPM hard drive, a comperable at best CPU (that will almost surely generate more heat), and a "full blown OS" that this inadequate hardware will struggle to hold up at speeds those of us with real hardware would call sufficient. It will also be bigger...and the entire point of the chromebook is that it has just enough that it can run quick, quiet, and small without being expensive. If that's not what you want, then you're looking at the wrong product.

          Now, back to SSDs, go try one out for a week then go back to 5400RPM and you'll want to throw that $300 PoS laptop against the wall as it boots up.