Saving Web Pages for Later from Chrome, Firefox and Safari

The Web - The Best Research Tool
The Web – The Best Research Tool

The web is a wonderful asset for writers and researchers. It is the ultimate research tool. But how do we save what we find for later?

The problem is keeping the information at our fingertips for later access. This is especially a problem if we work some of the time with no internet connection. Perhaps on a plane or train, or in a remote location where WiFi or Internet is expensive,  limited, unsafe or simply unavailable.

If you work on a Chromebook, this is an even bigger problem, because there are fewer options to store web pages and research material offline. But there are ways.

The three best ways to save web pages and web based notes offline.

  1. Evernote Web Clipper

Clip to EvernoteIf you are an Evernote user, this is a bit of a no-brainer. Evernote has the brilliant Evernote Web Clipper. It allows web content to be clipped in a number of formats and saved to Evernote.

Clipped articles can be saved in specific folders, and you can add tags.

Clip to EvernoteA particularly nice feature is the ability to highlight text on the page before it is saved. Selecting snippets of text allows you to colour them.

It is also possible to select a range of text in an article BEFORE clicking the save button on the toolbar, and save only that text to Evernote.

Clip to EvernoteThe downside of using Evernote is the fact that it cannot be accessed offline unless you have access to the Evernote App on Windows, Mac, Android or iOS. On a Chromebook, you will need to have the Evernote Android App installed, and that, at this time, is less than perfect on Chrome OS. This should improve over the next few months at the Android store rolls out to all capable Chrome OS devices.

2  Save to Pocket.

Save to PocketPocket is a free service (with a premium option) that allows pages to be saved and viewed on the Pocket web site, or in the Pocket app on Android and iOS or using a Chrome plugin. All work offline, as long as you have downloaded the latest content before going offline.

Save to PocketIt has fewer options than Evernote Web Clipper, but it is reliable, but allows tagging after saving.

3 Save to Keep

Save to KeepThis is a very simple and fast plugin that saves the URL of the page you are looking at and selected text to Keep.

Keep works offline, but the save option only saves the URL and a simple snapshot of the header. It will also save highlighted text. If you simply want to capture a thought or paragraph, this is a great option.

Save to KeepRemember though, it is text only, formatting disappears.

It is excellent for quickly saving things, but is not much use if you want a full article with images and formatting offline. It definitely has a place in my toolkit though.

These are the tools I use. They all work on Chrome, Safari and Firefox. You should be able to get them working on pretty much any platform.

There are others, including Sent to Kindle and Shareaholic that I have tried in the past.

The save to Kindle plugin works well in Chrome, but provides a text only capture. It also requires a Kindle reader to be installed on a tablet or phone, it ignores Chrome, Windows and macOS readers.

The Shareaholic plugin also works well with multiple sites, but is more of a social sharing tool that a save tool.

Please let me know what you use in the comments.

Why I Abandoned Windows, After 23 Years.

Windows 10Microsoft’s push to force Windows 10 on every user, want it or not, has,for me, poisoned a 34 year relationship with Microsoft, and a 23 year relationship with Windows.

I loved Windows ‘95, XP and 7. I was a developer and beta tester, and got invited to several launches. I met Bill Gates.

I lived through Windows ME, Vista, and 8. I forgave the promise and failure of “Cairo” and “Longhorn”, Magical Windows advances that never came.

My loyalty wavered with the Windows XP “Windows Genuine Advantage” fiasco, where hundreds of thousands of honest users had systems hosed because they had re-installed Windows XP at some time from the wrong disk (there was no licence verification before this, you just typed in the code on the box, and many companies bought multiple copies of Windows XP, and installed or re-installed from the one disk the tech. carried around in his bag)

Suddenly they were all asked to pay for a new copy of XP, simply because a friend had fixed their PC with HIS copy of Windows XP. A badly thought out money grab. If they did not pay, trouble for the user ensued.

I began experimenting with Linux. Linux is fast, reliable, and has a LOT of good, free software. But it has issues. Manufacturers of printers, scanners, video cards, web cameras, and a myriad of other devices write drivers and software for Windows, because it is the bulk of the market. The Linux community have to write their own drivers for most devices, and the do it because they want to use the device themselves. If you have a scanner no-one has heard of, it probably will have problems with Linux. Some major companies such as NVIDIA seen to enjoy making it hard for Linux users. Popular apps like Evernote do not work on Linux. As a result Linux is perfect 99% of the time, but the 1% is the problem. There is always ONE tool I really want that does not work in Linux, and calls me back to Windows.

Enter the Clowns, Windows 10.

I was SO looking forward to Windows 10. This would be the solution to the nightmare of Windows 8.0 brought on the world by Steven Sinofsky, who refused to listen to anyone who did not share his vision of forcing a huge change in the look and feel of Windows. He decided to ship it as he wanted, and simply “let them eat cake”. It did not work for Marie-Thérèse, and did not work for Steven Sinofsky, who was shown the door shortly after Windows 8 shipped.

I have stuck tenaciously to Windows 7, a reliable and familiar interface, usually dual-booting into a Linux system. Windows 10 would bring back the familiar look, be lighter, more secure, and faster.

I am bandwidth limited. I have great internet speed at home, but am often on the road. I downloaded the Windows 10 ISO and burned bootable USB sticks for 32 and 64 Bit Windows 10. I installed it on two laptops, and immediately hit problems. Drivers did not work. Battery life plummeted. I spend a lot of time on the road, battery life is important. Bluetooth keyboards and mice, and WiFi network connections are vital. These had problems.

I rolled Windows 10 back on my Ultrabook. Happily back on Windows 7, I planned to give Windows 10 time to fix itself…

Or not…

Then Microsoft began it’s reign of terror.

Update Now!The “Reserve your copy now!” flag in the system tray went to a recommended update. Then Microsoft began silently downloading it (all 3+ Gigabytes of it) to a hidden folder, so when you decided to update, it would be there. If you deleted the folder, Microsoft started the download again, silently. As How-To Geek noted, Update Now went from “Yes or No” to “Now or Tonight”

Remember, I have already downloaded this OS as an ISO, and used a USB installer. I HAVE IT ALREADY, but Microsoft keeps pushing it down, over and over again, to every Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 device.

If you are a Digital Nomad living on coffee shop WiFi, you will have a battle with this. If you are a Grey Nomad (Snowbird in the USA) and are on the road using your phone as a WiFi hotspot and paying serious money for data, you are in a world of hurt. If you are the young, often homeless friend of mine trying to get off the street with a book deal using MacDonalds and library WiFi to send manuscripts and e-mail, you are screwed.

You CANNOT stop this. There are tools to stop the downloads. There is advice on changing settings to stop the updates. They work for a while, but Microsoft keeps bypassing everything, and forcing another download. People who think they have stopped this process report that it turns itself back on within a couple of hours. And the average mom and pop user knows nothing about these options. IT JUST KEEPS COMING!

I owned an amazing 8” Chinese tablet. It had 3Gb of RAM, a 64 Bit Intel processor, and a 32Gb disk. It ran Windows 8.1 and Android with a dual boot option. The constant downloads forced me to try Windows 10. The updater told me my device was compatible. The 32Gb disk was filling. I was running out of precious disk space, and my tablet was crashing.

I decided to upgrade. Big mistake.

The installer worked, the device rebooted. The on-screen keyboard put characters all over the place. it was impossible to even log in. The touch-screen was not working properly. I tried reboots, USB keyboards, and everything else, I could not login. After an hour of trying, I actually managed to get access.There was no rollback option. Reboots where impossible. the option to boot back to the 4Gb Android partition was gone.

After many hours of work, I smashed the tablet in frustration, and dropped it in the Recycling bin.

Microsoft’s scorched earth “Nothing but Windows 10” policy is hurting people, again and again.

And if you get Windows 10 working OK, you have no way to keep it that way.

Microsoft has decided that all updates are required. There are NO optional updates. Unless you are a corporate user, there is no way to hold, stop or postpone updates. Everything is quietly installed. In the end of 2015 the Windows 10 1511 “Threshold” update was more that 3Gb. That is a big download if you are on limited bandwidth. And there is no way to stop it.

Windows 10? No thank you, Microsoft!

How have I responded to this last failure?

  • I have discovered that Chromebooks can do the bulk of what I need.
  • I refuse to help friends with Windows problems.
  • I have installed Windows 10 on the two Laptops in my office, and have sold them cheap. To my amazement, the woman who bought my Ultrabook wants me to install Linux Mint!
  • I have Bought a 13” 2015 MacBook Air laptop. It is now my main machine.
  • In four weeks, I have not found anything I cannot do on a Chromebook or a Mac.
  • I will NEVER again buy a computer with Windows on it. Goodby Microsoft.
  • My Windows device purchases have supplied two years of Office 365. I may use the OneDrive storage, temporarily. Or not… Given my current Microsoft antipathy, I guess not.

Along the way I have found that for some of my attempts to install Windows 7, I went back to the original media, installed that and then tried to update.

It appears Microsoft’s Windows 7 update system is patchy or not working.

In one case the new install kept looking for updates for two days before I gave up.

The free update to Windows 10 offer ends in a few months. What happens then?

People who have not availed themselves of the upgrade offer will be stuck with a crippled Windows 7 or 8.1 and no way to continue using it without constantly being harassed by Microsoft. But once they install Windows 10, their existing key will not work, and they will have to pay for the upgrade.

This will, in my opinion, take Microsoft’s push for world domination from harassment to blackmail.

Microsoft has finally realised it cannot ignore competing platforms. They have lost the mobile phone war. Their only hope for long term survival is to become relevant on other platforms including smartphones with software and services.

The Windows 10 land grab has left a bad taste in my mouth, and I am sure I am not alone. I will be forced, through business dealings, to use Microsoft file formats from time to time, but the range of software I can use for that is growing.

The days of using Microsoft Word to print faxes with company letterheads on them is fast fading. I got rid of my fax machine five years ago. My multifunction printer has fax capabilities, but I have never bothered to plug it into a phone socket.

Google Docs, ZoHo, LibreOffice, and a host of other tools can do the formatting I need. If Microsoft had allowed a slow transition to Windows 10, it would have come as people bought new PCs.

Microsoft may be surprised at how many people had never heard of Windows 10, didn’t even notice the upgrade now notifications, and have no interest in change.

Disrupting these often older people will not endear them to Microsoft when the wake up one morning and find the Windows 10 EULA on their screens after a recommended update.

If they say NO to the EULA, the already installed Windows 10 will attempt to roll back, removing the Gigabytes of installed files and trying to replace the originals. Often it works, but not always. And when it fails, the confused user is stuck with a poorly functioning computer, or even one that is completely hosed, thanks to Microsoft’s arrogance.

If they accept, Windows 10 will confuse them. It will probably kill or remove apps and drivers they have relied on for years. many cannot afford to pay a service technician to spend hours sorting their computers out for them. Many are on limited and expensive internet connections.

They rely on a computer to keep them in touch with family and friends. They use PCs to work as volunteers for clubs, groups and associations.

I have stopped counting the number of visits by family and friends that have turned into impromptu tech-support sessions. I am getting sick of it, and am now recommending they look at a Chromebook.

Their family will most likely move many of them to an iPad. Savvy family members will buy a Chromebook or Chromebox.

HP Chromebook 11If they go to a retailer, he will listen with sympathy, rub his hands together with glee, and point them at a Mac as something that just works, and not mention it has the highest commission for him.

The good news for me is that this has moved me to make a personal decision. One of my businesses has been closed with little fanfare, and I will be looking in a different direction. I like helping people, I love technology. The worst part of my business was the repetitious cleanup of infected Windows PCs. I will now focus on helping people in different ways.

Thank you Microsoft, so long, and thanks for all the fish.

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Six Steps to Using Your Chromebook Offline

Google Drive & Docs
Google Drive & Docs

Using a Chromebook Offline is not as simple as turning WiFi off and expecting it to work. There are a few steps to guarantee a smooth transition to offline.

Google has made huge strides with the Chrome OS operating system, ensuring the Chromebooks can work effectively offline. Microsoft’s ill fated Scroogled campaign tried hard to make Chromebooks look like bricks when not connected to the Internet, and initially, that was true. Today, a Chromebook can work effectively offline.

“Using a Chromebook Offline is not as simple as turning WiFi off and expecting it to work”

I created this document a few minutes ago, while sitting in a bus far from WiFi.

Media playerI am listening to music played by the ChromeOS media player, and typing in a Google Document. I have successfully used Google Docs completely offline for a week to prove the reliability of Drive/Docs over a long period.   

From startup to offline use are from six to ten steps, depending on what apps you use. Let’s have a look at six of them.

The first thing to remember is that a chromebook does not run background processes like Windows, or a mobile phone. Drive, Keep, Gmail Offline, and Google Books only run when they are opened in a tab. For example if you use Keep on your phone, tablet and Chromebook, you MUST open keep on your Chromebook for it to update with changes made on your phone.

“Drive, Keep, Gmail Offline, and Google Books only run when they are opened in a tab.”

I use Keep frequently as a note taker on my Android phone. The ability to capture a quick note as a voice recording is exceptional. But if I want to access those notes on my Chromebook I must open Keep while I am connected to the Internet, so the Keep tab can update. I does not happen unless the Keep tab is opened.

This applies to Drive, Gmail and any other app that shares or syncs data with other devices or cloud services. If you rely on these apps and are frequently away from a network, pin the tabs and keep them open all the time.

Lets step through the things you need to do to use a Chromebook offline. I assume you are logged in, and have an Internet connection. If I describe a service you do not need or want, go to the next item. This is based on my personal useage.

1. – Open Keep. You are done. Keep is a simple but powerful note Google Keeptaker, and it synchronizes automatically and continuously. If you have a lot of notes in keep it may take a minute to download everything. This is it for Keep! I suggest you pin the tab, or open it as a separate window so it stays up to date.

2. – Open Google Drive. Go to settings and select “Offline” and wait Google Drivefor it to sync up. This can take a while. If you only store Google docs, sheets, slides and drawings, you are done.

3. – Open the Files app. If you want to save non gDocs in drive, there Files Appis another step. You must open the Files app, find the files you want to save locally, and right-click each one and tick “Available offline”.  Optionally, if there are a large number of files, copy them to a USB or SD card, and open them from there.

Files Offline

4. – Open Google Calendar. In settings, select “Offline” to enable Google Calendaroffline access to the Calendar app. This will sync all current appointments. It will NOT allow you to add new entries in your calendar at this time. But usually, you will be offline because you are travelling, so your calendar should have the information you need in it beforehand.  

Calendar Offline

Calendar Syncronizes

5. – Open Gmail Offline. Go to settings and select offline.  and decide Gmail Offlinehow much e-mail you want to store. I delete everything not vital, so my mail store is small, I select the longest time available, one month.

As Gmail Offline syncs, it starts from the latest, and saves backwards, giving a running update on how much it has stored. You can read, delete, and create mail while offline, but, obviously, nothing is sent or updated on the web until you are back in range of WiFi.

Offline EmailThe Gmail Offline app also saves starred messages. I am looking at a package dispatch notice sent to me four years ago, that I starred at the time.  This app is not my favourite, but it works fine. One gotcha is that it does not download graphics, so if you have email that is heavy on graphics, it will not be readable offline.

Some people who have multiple gmail accounts use Gmail Offline for one account, so they can have two accounts open without having to log out of their main account in Chrome OS.

6. – (Optional) Open Google Books. You may not use Google Books, Google Play Booksbut I find it a wonderful resource. Not only does the Google Play Store sell many books cheaper than Amazon, but any ePub that does not have DRM can be uploaded from your local machine. I have purchased books from Baen and other publishers, and downloaded many from sites such as Project Gutenberg. Some of my Favourite Sci-Fi authors are available on Google books, but not on Amazon. And books purchased on the Google Play Store can be downloaded and used in other e-readers if they do not have DRM added.  

I read most on my Nexus 7 tablet, but the Chromebook also provides a good reading experience. Simply look at “My books” hover over the ones you want to take with you, and select “Make available Offline” to download it. I currently have eight books available on my Chromebook.

Google Books will synchronize the reading locations, and my copious highlighting and notes between the Chromebook and any Chrome browsers I use, and my Android Reader apps in seconds. I highlight and take notes on the Chromebook, it is easier with a mouse and keyboard. I can then read and see my notes in seconds on any other device. It is a great study tool.

At this point, your Chromebook is ready to be used offline. Any time you have a connection, simply open the Keep, Drive, Gmail Offline and Google Books tabs, and they will sync.

I use a number of other tools, but what else you use is a matter of personal preference. One tool I think is irreplaceable for me is Pocket.

7. – (Optional, Bonus) Open and Synchronize Pocket. Pocket allows Pocket Offlineme to capture content from any web site, and read it later, offline. I can access it on my Chrome or Android device for offline reading. I often capture news articles, blog posts and other content relating to articles I am working on. I also often capture articles that I want to read later, when I have more time.

The “Save to Pocket” addon puts a button on the browser toolbar. Clicking on this saves the article to Pocket. Tags and annotations can be added. Then, when the Chrome App is opened, it downloads all the articles to the local machine for offline reading. I currently have several hundred articles saved in this fashion. Not everything works offline, searching does not work, but usually I have no trouble making things findable.

So that is the basics. Most people will want other apps and tools, and there are many that work offline. I will discuss some of them in future posts, and some have already been discussed.

You may also like to read:

A Week With A Chromebook Offline – Conclusions.

Google Drive & Docs
Google Drive & Docs

Using a Chromebook offline for a week was not a challenge after all. With one quirk understood, I worked productively in half a dozen locations with no WiFi.

This is the week, based on my journal, recorded in Keep.

Offline: Day Two – User Error

I had forgotten a feature of Evernote for Android. It requires the paid Pro version to allow saving of offline folders. I use the paid version, but you must visit each folder and mark it for offline access to be able to use notes when offline. This only applies to the client you are using. The folders must be selected and synced before going offline.

I stored some web pages in Evernote for use while offline in my Inbox, but I had forgotten to mark it for offline use. User error!

Fortunately, I save web pages I require for reference in both Evernote and Pocket, and Pocket continued to show the 300+ saved articles.

“Pocket continued to show the 300+ saved articles offline”

I also use Google Keep for lots of notes, and it syncs automatically and has been 100% reliable.

Day Three – File Naming

Offline Document CreationAnother quirk of Google Docs offline is file naming. When on-line, a new document is created automatically, with a generic name. It can be re-named later. In offline mode, you are asked to provide a name when the document is created. That name cannot be changed while offline.

“You are asked to provide a document name when it is created. That name cannot be changed while offline.”

All my documents are numbered and named. I accidentally gave a new document the wrong number. I will have to wait another few days to correct the mistake. No big deal, just an interesting quirk.

Day Four –  The Only Failure

I rebooted the Chromebook. I rarely do this, I usually just close the lid (screen) and known it will start from hibernate instantly the next time I lift the lid. I decided to do the full power cycle to check for problems.

But rebooting while offline, a few things went wrong.

StackEdit, my favourite Markdown editor would not restart without connecting to stackedit.io. It works offline, and I use it to format content for blog posts. I can save from Stackedit as HTML and paste directly into WordPress. I have never noticed this problem before, but Stackedit is usually running.

StackEdit, my favourite Markdown editor would not restart without connecting to stackedit.io.

I initially wrote a rant about having contributed to become a lifetime supporter, but finding a need to connect constantly to a server to start the app working being a slap in the face.

I have re-done this test a number of times, and each time StackEdit has started offline with no problems. So I withdraw my rant and will wait to see what happens over time.

My faith in StackEdit is, however, bruised. It was only the fact that I had been doing all my writing in Google Docs, as most users would, and copying text back and forth that allowed me to continue for another few days without re-connecting to the Internet.

I must assume this was a one-time problem. But would the StackEdit client have re-started if I had attempted to open A Markdown file stored locally, rebooting my access to the number of files I could not access? I did not think to try, and it has behaved perfectly since then, so I have no way to know.

A Real Problem & A Solution

“Another problem was the disappearance of three Google Docs that I had edited and closed.”

Another problem was the disappearance of three Google Docs that I had edited and closed. They did not show up in a search for their names. They were not in Recent, or in the folder I had saved them to.

I tried the search in the ChromeOS Files app, my work was gone, or was invisible. This was not a happy outcome.

But all Google Docs are given long unguessable URLs that do not change. So I went into browser history. The lost docs where there.

Offline Document In History

“I went into browser history. The lost docs where there.”

 

Save Document URL
Save Document URL

I also have a master document with the names of all the documents I have created. Documents and articles not yet started are in red, in progress is blue, finished is green. I usually paste a link to each document into this master document, giving me a hyperlink to everything. I had done that with one of the three missing documents, and it opened immediately. Everything was there, just not visible in Drive.

Work continued Uninterrupted.

I had copied the content to other apps, and saved to a USB stick after applying Markup so nothing would have been lost.

Day Seven – A Stress Free Week

The rest of the week has gone perfectly. I have experimented with a number of apps that work offline, including Evernote for Android, Write Space, QwertyZen, the Calculator, Google Calendar, Gliffy Diagrams, and more.

Only once did I have a concern with Google Docs. A message opened up saying “Offline editing has stopped working, please reload the tab”. I did, with trepidation, and the document came back, with the cursor where I had left it, nothing lost.

Day Eight

I turned WiFi on and opened Drive. My missing documents popped into the list within seconds. I opened Gmail Offline and mail that had been read and deleted synced. Sent mail queued up in the Outbox went. Opened documents quickly showed spell checking working. Voice Typing came back.

With only one or two hiccups, the week had gone perfectly. If I had continued to use ChromeOS from hibernate instead of re-booting, there may well have been zero problems.

“I am now confident that I can use a Chromebook offline for extended periods with little risk.”

I am now confident that I can use a Chromebook offline for extended periods with little risk. Not backing up your work is hazardous at any time, and while Google Docs cannot be saved outside Drive, minimally formatted content can be copied and pasted to other file formats. Only Sheets and Presentations rely on being on-line for backups. anyone who writes can work confidently for long periods.

If you need to be offline for really extended periods, or use Sheets, Presentations and other formats for extended periods there are other options. More on that later.

 

The Last Word…

For now, my only advice is, create a number of blank Docs, Sheets and Presentations while on-line. They will be visible in Files and Drive and can be edited and closed with no drama.

More Later. Enjoy!

The decision to try offline for a week is made.

My rant about the “Chromebooks Don’t Work Offline” argument.

 

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Why Retail Sales of Chromebooks are Doomed

The HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11

Recently a friend visited to ask my advice on a chromebook for his father.

He had visited Harvey Norman, A major Australian retailer. While they had several chromebooks in stock the Harvey Norman salesman were very dismissive of the product and told him that in a year they have not sold one. I found that hard to believe since I have personally bought two chromebooks in that store.

The problem for Google (and users) is that salesmen have very little incentive to sell Chromebooks because low cost means small commissions. And retailers train sales staff to sell the items with the biggest profit margins.

The Chromebook is an appliance like a television set, you simply plug it in and it works

The Chromebook is an appliance like a television set, you simply plug it in and it works. You do not buy antivirus software, Microsoft Office or any other of the other big ticket items that make a salesman’s day. So any salesman, seeing mom and pop walk into the shop will upsell them using brands and names they know. While it is ageing and tarnished in the tech. world, Microsoft Windows is a well known brand. For the non-technical person, the advice of a smiling salesman combined with a name they know, Apple or Microsoft, will convince them.

You do not buy antivirus software, Microsoft Office or any other of the other big ticket items that make a salesman’s day.

The result will be inevitably that’s for Google to succeed with chromebooks they will have to be sold online not through retailers who simply have no incentive to sell them.

This may well mean that for these brick and mortar retailers the day will stay with windows and Apple devices until the market gradually withers and dies and then find that they have lost out to Google and online retailers forever.

I visited Harvey Norman myself the next day, and received the same dismissive response to Chromebooks. The HP 11 original version is my favourite computer. To my delight, I found they had two in stock, reduced almost to half price. I picked one up for my son, with the intention of pensioning off and old Samsung Chromebook.

Before filling out the paperwork the salesman looked at me over the top of the beautiful molded box and said “You do realise that a Chromebook is not a REAL computer…” I assured him I knew EXACTLY what a Chromebook was, and left with a half price Chromebook.

This post was written offline on a Chromebook, and moved via USB drive to post here – My Offline Chromebook challenge is half over.

The Chromebook Offline Challenge – A Week Without Internet.

Drive is OfflineAt 11:45 this morning I walked out of my office with my HP Chromebook 11. I had synced drive and offline Gmail, Calendar, Evernote (the Android app.) and Pocket. I have opened Keep, StackEdit, and other apps that I use while online, allowing them to sync up. Then I turned WiFi off.

“At 11:45 this morning, I turned my Chromebook’s WiFi off. It will stay disconnected for a week”

I will not connect this Chromebook to the Internet for a week. I will write using Drive and Docs, and do all the work I normally do on my Chromebox on this device.

The HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11

The purpose of the experiment is not to live without the Internet, but to test the reliability of Docs, Drive, Keep, and other tools for a long period of disconnection. Will they be reliable? Will I lose work? A common criticism of Chromebooks is that they do not work offline. That myth has been debunked repeatedly, but the question remains, just how safe is a Chromebook if it is offline for a prolonged period?

“The myth that Chromebooks don’t work offline has been thoroughly debunked…”

To protect my week’s output, I will copy and paste text into QwertyZen or StackEdit and save to a USB stick in case of total disaster.

The first loss, of course is that spell checking does not work in offline Docs. I will have to wait until I am back on-line, or copy text to another editor that does spell checking offline such as StackEdit, QwertyZen, or Write.

One drawback with gDocs (Google Docs) is that they cannot be copied and pasted to a USB drive or otherwise accessed outside Drive. And another drawback is that non Google files, like .txt, .json or .html are not syncronised automatically. These non Google documents can, however be saved to a USB stick or Dropbox, Onedrive or a Windows share for storage. They can also be set to save locally and synchronize using the ChromeOS Files app. Simply save the file to Drive, find it using the Files app, right click and check “Available Offline”. This will need to be done in each instance of drive where you want this file kept, it does not propagate across machines.

I will update my progress periodically. I do not expect to have a problem, but time will tell.

This post was writted as a Google Doc, formatted in StackEdit, saved as HTML to a USB drive and uploaded via my Chromebox.

Cloudbooks – The Worst of Both Worlds

wccf Dump Chromebooks - Really?
wccf Dump Chromebooks – Really?

A post on the Wccf Tech website suggests we should dump our Chromebooks and move to a Windows Cloudbook. The give four reasons, an I do not agree with any of them!

While Google’s Chrome OS is ideal in some circumstances, it is still not as feature riche as Windows 10.

  1. The Windows 10 Experience: Yes, Windows 10 is wildly superior to Windows 8 and 8.1 because it is usable. This might be new for Windows 8 users, but my Chromebook is unfailingly easy to use. Is Windows 10 feature rich? Yes. But that is not necessarily a selling point for many of us. I like simple and fast…
  2. The Hardware: The hardware is very similar to that of a Chromebook, but the “feature rich” Windows 10 operating system requires far more resources that a Chromebook. Most come with 16 or 32 GB of storage, so forget about installing or running Photoshop (Microsoft’s usual reason for saying Windows is essential) and on 16 GB of storage, forget about Microsoft Office. My Chromebook runs MUCH better on this hardware.
  3. Pricing is Dirt Cheap: True, so are Chromebooks, and Chromebook of a similar price works better. If a $10 price difference is important, go to eBay or a second hand shop!
  4. Getting Onedrive and Office 365 free for One Whole Year!: Yes 1 Tb of storage free is good, but after a year, you have to pay. And without Office 365 you have bought a brick. A Chromebook comes with free access to Google Docs, and you can always access 15 GB free, and have 100 GB for a year.

The suggestion that:

Cloudbook owners will receive 12 whole months of free OneDrive storage, along with an Office 365 subscription. That is a total of two services that you will be receiving from Microsoft while only one from Google.

Is inaccurate and ridiculous, because both of these services are free from Google, except for the (temporary) 1 TB of storage.

If you are a home user and really need 1 TB of cloud storage, I suggest you look at options other than Google or Microsoft. 15 GB is enough for most home or small business users. If you need more, you are in a different category altogether, and will not be looking at $150 computers as a cost saving measure.

For the average computer user, Cloudbooks are the WORST of both worlds.

Cloudbooks

For the average computer user, Cloudbooks are the WORST of both worlds. They are under-powered, and have the complexity of Windows, making them slow. They require updates, anti-virus software, and require the installation of many programs to make them useful.

They are prone to viruses, hacking and malware.

They cannot use Office 365 without a permanent internet connection, making them useless for Digital Nomads.

Chromebooks

My Chromebook (and Chromebox) can do almost everything offline. ( they just wait to sync, if offline) and are fast thanks to a stripped Linux kernel and minimal O/S overhead. Is it simple? Yes.  Does it work?  Yes.  Is it fast? Yes.

I watch/listen to media from, and save files to a local NAS server, or work from a USB key or Google Drive for days at a stretch without Internet.

The ability to write, use spreadsheets, presentations and more is built in, free, and works offline. Apps like Pocket, Stackedit and Gmail Offline allow me to work happily without a connection.

No contest here, Windows has a place, and I like Windows 10. If I need serious power and apps like video and audio editing, I go to Linux.

I am writing this on an ASUS UX31E Ultrabook running Ubuntu Linux, after taking Windows 10 off yesterday. It was nice, but not compelling for me. To many things don’t work yet! And Microsoft now is collecting a great deal of information about me. Too much? No, Google collects the same information, but they do not then charge me for the service, they just show me ads!

But a Cloudbook? This is a Netbook with another name, and will go the way of the Netbooks. I do not need one of these fail whales.

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Written by Phil Stephens of Philstephens.com.au .

Chromebooks Can Now Access Windows Servers, OneDrive and Dropbox (Updated)

00162-smb-playstoreI was excited to see a post from +Yoichiro Tanaka on Google+ that he had posted a new App in the Chrome store for ChromeOS devices.

It is a new service for the Files app that allows Chromebook and Chromebox users to connect directly to SMB (Windows) server shares. I immediately installed it and connected to my NAS4Free server with no problems.

The NAS4Free share appears in the left pane of the Files app, and everything is immediately available.

I was ecstatic, for the one downside of Chromebooks and Chromeboxes is that the only way to connect to a local resource is to use FTP by typing and FTP address into the browser.

For example to play a video from my NAS server required me to connect with ftp://192.168.1.250/ and then right-click a file and save it locally to play the content. SOME FTP content will play directly in the browser, but most has to be saved locally.

Compared to the point and click possible between Windows and Linux machines and network shares, ChromeOS has been pretty clunky.

00162-services-in-file-managerUnfortunately, I was unable to connect to my ASUS router. It has a 3TB USB drive connected and shared as SMB and FTP. All attempts to date have failed to connect. This is unfortunate, but for an App that has only been available for days, it is a VERY GOOD start. SMB is a difficult protocol to cope with. Microsoft spent years trying to break connections from any device that was NOT Windows until they finally realised it was in their best interests to let everybody connect to their servers.

UPDATE: The latest version of this app now connects to everything in my office perfectly. I have connected to a NAS4Free box, ASUS router and a Seagate Wireless Plus Mobile Storage / Wi-Fi hub that is my travel server.

The Service/App is not perfect. Pausing a video during playback causes a timeout error, and I wonder if the failure to connect to some of these SMB devices is simply the slow speed of low powered devices such as router based SMB shares and NAS boxes that take time to spin up sleeping hard drives.

I am confident that Yoichiro will continue to work on this, as long as he gets some encouragement, and with time it will sort out the problems.

New File Services
New File Services

As I worked away with this I noticed something new in the usually simple Files left pane. A new item at the bottom. Add New Devices!

And behind that button is OneDrive, WebDAV and Google Cloud Storage.

00162 0 dropbox-app-storeAdded to this the exciting Dropbox implementation done as the first proof of concept for the new API Google released, and some seriously exciting things are happening in the Chromebook / ChromeOS world!

I do NOT want ChromeOS to grow into the bloated sloth that is Windows, but by adding features such as connecting to local network devices, the ability to connect to Bluetooth headphones and speakers and access phones via Micro-USB / OTG in just the last month or so.

ChromeOS is getting very interesting.

 

HP Chromebook 11 Charging – revisited

The HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11

I have had a comment on a recent post from Kathy, concerned that the HP Micro-USB charging port is not living up to it’s potential.  She was concerned by the “Low-power charger” message.

I decided to redo the last group of tests, to be sure.

last night I ran my HP Chromebook 11 flat by playing the Iron-man movie continually until the battery was dead. I do NOT like or recommend ever running a battery below 18-20% as this can damage the battery. I am not an Apple fan, but they have an excellent web page on battery care for laptops and devices with Li-Ion batteries here

I plugged the charger into my basically dead Chromebook four hours ago, and rebooted when the battery reached 9%. The results, with the computer asleep and only being checked every hour where:

  • Hour 1 – 33% up 24%
  • Hour 2 – 56% up 23%
  • Hour 3 – 78% up 22% (with the PortaPow fast  power only cable)
  • Hour 4 – 84% up 6% (with the computer in constant use)

smoothing out the results, this is about 24% / Hr, or four hours to pretty much full charge. The original HP charger does this in a whisker under three hours. not a bad comparison.

Interestingly, temperature is a factor for battery life, and fast chargers heat batteries up, as does fast discharging doing things like playing video at full screen and full screen brightness.  As a result, I have chosen, where possible to charge all my devices as slowly as possible.

Anker 4 Port Charger
Anker 4 Port Charger

My most used option for the HP Chromebook 11, my Nexus 7, and my phone is a one meter illuminated charging cable. I have purchased three different types, and the common factor is usefulness rather than speed. They glow red when charging, and turn blue when charging stops. They charge at about half the speed of the fast PortaPow cables, but I plug all my devices in at night, and by morning, everything has been charged slowly but effectively.

When I travel, speed becomes more of an issue, and I go to the fast charging options.

The HP Chromebook 11 and  the “Low-power charger” message

I have no inside information here, but I see devices described by my HP 11 as “Low-power chargers” charging at a pretty good rate (See the figures above)  My feeling is that the HP charger uses a customized “hardware handshake” or unique resistors between the signal and power lines. I am sure no matter how powerful the charger, and good the cable nothing but a genuine HP charger will be considered the full powered option. It does not mean the the charger is not doing a good job. Slower? Yes, but that is not always a bad thing.

I have worked for days with a 2 amp Nexus 7 charger slowly charging ( and sometimes discharging) my HP Chromebook 11 while it is being used. When I close the lid and the computer is suspended, it charged at a pretty fast rate.

I am currently writing this on the HP 11 with Drive, Gmail and a couple of other tabs open. It has charged only 5% in the last hour. But in my experience, a Windows Laptop being used while charging can often take 8-10 hours to charge. Assuming a 20% starting point, that is 8% per hour, so the difference is noticeable, but not catastrophic.

This computer has now been charging for four hours, three in sleep mode, one in constant use, and the battery has gone from 9% to 82%. Not a bad average, given that my $1800 ASUS Zenbook takes four hours to charge from 20% while not being used.

The thing to remember is, if you use the machine constantly, the charger will keep it going. Any USB charger will bring it back up overnight, and that USB charger can also charge your phone, tablet, headphones, keyboard, mouse and more. And the slower charging rate will preserve the battery in your Chromebook.

Also worth mentioning is that the power-bank you bought to recharge your phone or tablet can also keep the HP Chromebook 11 running longer. Everything from a 2600 mAh lipstick sized charger to the 10400 mAh Soshine power bank beside me (review coming) can keep that HP Chromebook 11 running longer.

My Takeaway:

  • Any USB charger can charge the HP Chromebook 11
  • Any HP Chromebook 11 charger can charge a myriad of other devices
  • Lower powered chargers may take longer, but they will extend battery life
  • The HP Chromebook 11 & Charger is a VERY light travel solution, and can charge other devices
  • pick the best cable for the job you need

If you have doubts, look at the numbers, and, does it really need to charge in three hours? What is your real usage model? In my case, a trickle feed keeping it going all day and an overnight top-up is perfect, and any charger can do that…

Enjoy!

QwertyZen – A Writers Text Editor for Chrome

I spend a lot of time writing in ChromeOS on a Chromebook and Chromebox. I am always looking for a reliable, distraction free text editor, a Writers Editor.

QwertyZen Uncluttered Interface
QwertyZen Uncluttered Interface

I have used several text editors, and all work well but have issues. Some have no save capability, some do not work offline, some have no spell-checker and some are cluttered and allow no font and color options. Some are not persistent.

 

QwertyZen is elegant, simple, and has an uncluttered interface

QwertyZen is elegant, simple, and does all of that. It has an uncluttered interface, saves, works offline and on Chromebooks and Windows machines and has a good spell-checker.

When you start typing the interface disappears, showing just the text and nothing else. Moving the mouse over the page brings up the interface. The file name is at the top of the screen, and the word count, letter count, target, and average reading time shows at the bottom of the screen. A simple menu system appears on the left side. This allows full screen mode (and back) file save, save as, and open, new document, and an additional nice feature, the ability to set a target.

Setting targets

Is there any writer or blogger who is not trying to reach a target word count? Articles need to be a certain length. Most of has have a personal goal of a certain number of words per day. This can be set for each document, and a green popup appears in the corner of the screen when the target is reached.

Settings

The QwertyZen Interface
The QwertyZen Interface

The settings tab is simple and basic. Font and background colour, font size and type and line width and height can be set.

It is also persistent. If I close my Chromebook down, when I restart and open QweryZen, the last document is still there, waiting to be edited and saved.

A small but nice feature is a findable cursor

I set my background to a dark blue and my font to white or light blue. Many text editors show the mouse pointer as a fine black bar, making it impossible to find the mouse location on a dark background without clicking on the page to see where the cursor will appear. In QweryZen the mouse Cursor is black with a white outline, making it clearly visible at all times.

It does not have a built in ability to print, but I can open any text file from Google Drive as a doc and print it, in the rare cases I want to print a .txt file from my Chromebox or Chromebook.

QweryZen cannot be registered in Drive as an App, so clicking on a text file will not open it in QweryZen, but I simply open files from inside QweryZen using the File List option.

I would like to see a search or search and replace capability. A recently opened files list would be nice. Autosave would be a nice option. I can survive without all of them, though.

Other than that, I am VERY pleased after a few hours of use. I have now deleted Caret and Write Space to remove confusion and clutter, and am using QwertyZen as my sole Chromebook text editor.

This review was written in QwertZen