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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My Portable Office – A Laptop Workstation

The Travel Workstation
The Travel Workstation

My Mobile Office is an HP Chromebook 11 (The original -1101 model, with the beautiful screen and USB charging) and a mobile phone. A very light combination, but what happens when I need to spend a lot of time in one place?

The Micro Office requires a more ergonomic approach to the workstation.

My portable office is often a place I spend a few minutes here and there. the laptop is enough. But sometimes I need to spend hours or even days in a single location with the minimum of technology.

So how do I cope with the ergonomic issues of a small and light device without the back pain and wrist issues caused by “iPad neck” without much extra weight? A few additional lightweight devices.

Travel Stand
Travel Stand

I have a very light and simple laptop stand. It is a strip of Corflute board purchased from a stationery store for about $5 and used for a number of projects.

I cut a strip with the (tubes running upwards) 480mm wide and 130mm high. I sliced half way through it vertically at the half-way point resulting in two wings 280mm wide by 130mm high that can bend around like the covers of a book. I added a strip of cloth tape down the fold to strengthen the bend. I now have a light stand 280mm wide, 130mm high and about 10mm thick weighing a barely discernible 57 grams or 2 oz.

Chromebook on the Stand
Chromebook on the Stand

This can be opened into a triangular shape to support a laptop, opening facing forward. The size may have to be adjusted for your laptop and height. It supports the laptop perfectly, but requires an external keyboard and mouse.

T630 touch mouse
T630 touch mouse

I use my HP Chromebook 11 as my primary portable office computer and carry a Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard (K810) for my PC, tablet and smartphone and a Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse T630.  The combined weight of the keyboard and mouse is 400g or 14.4oz.

For a long mobile working session, this is a very small price (in weight) to pay for arguably the best keyboard and mouse on the market.

Logitech K810 Keyboard
Logitech K810 Keyboard

The mouse and keyboard both charge via a Micro-USB port, so I can charge them with the Chromebook charger, or from a USB port on the Chromebook. One charger can handle the HP 11, my phone, the mouse, keyboard and my Bluetooth headset. I carry a couple of extra leads and can charge the HP Chromebook 11 while using it, or while it is suspended, and also charge devices from one or both USB type A ports. I have written about the brilliant HP Chromebook 11 here.

These devices have probably been replaced by later models, but are the best lightweight, quality devices I could find at the time. I have written about the Logitech Ultra-thin mouse here

As you can see from the Photo, I have cut two pairs of notches in the front part of the stand. This fits my tablets, and at a pinch my phone. It allows me to use a tablet (or phone) at eye level to watch video.

I can also use my Windows 8.1 tablet with Keyboard and mouse as a full PC if I need to. (more on the tablet later, it is still under review)

When I fly, the folding stand goes in a pocket in my SCOTTeVEST jacket in front of my tablet screen, if I am carrying one. It protects it from impacts that may break the screen, and adds zero weight. I use two thin rubber bands to keep them together in transit.

How to Avoid Pain and RSI Using a Portable Office

Mobile Working Without Pain
Mobile Working Without Pain

Every coffee shop, train and park bench is filled with people (mostly, but not always) young, working on laptop computers or tablets.

Silently, RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) or ( ‘CANS’: Complaints of Arm, Neck and/or Shoulder) is resurfacing. This time it is not factory workers. It is knowledge workers. Home, Portable and Mobile office users. Digital nomads, teleworkers and more.

The smartphone and tablet have become the consumption device of choice, but except for quick email, notes and checking appointments, we need a laptop computer of one type or another. An ugly, but as yet little discussed side effect of using laptop computers is the damage you can be doing to your body and hands. Back, neck and wrist pain can become chronic and debilitating.

In the 70’s and 80’s millions of dollars were spend on the design of office workstations. Standards and rules were developed. Injuries were reduced, and the people rejoiced (well, not that perhaps) but injuries fell dramatically. Then came the laptop. And much of that work went out the window, with the office…

For digital nomads and mobile workers the idea of a workstation is not on the radar.

Think Again – You Have A Workstation!

Your Workstation is the place you sit down (or stand up) and work from. It may be a coffee shop, bar stool, airplane seat or hammock, but if you work there for more than 10 minutes, it is a workstation. And it needs some thought.

A recent survey in the UK found that 79% of people using mobile devices were having health problems, 10% said “nomadic Working” had created long term problems and 5% had been forced to give up their jobs.

RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) is not associated with age, it is associated with hours in front of a keyboard. ( in some areas The term ‘RSI’ has been replaced by ‘CANS’: Complaints of Arm, Neck and/or Shoulder, but RSI is best known)

It is very easy to make a mistake. Especially digital nomads who tend to be young. You are young, active and healthy, and then, suddenly, you are not.

Then it can take months or years to fix even the simplest problems, because you cannot work without aggravating the problem. Imagine not being able to type (at all) for 3 months. How is that online business looking now?

So, lets look at the solution.

The Workstation

The “Workstation” is your whole working environment. For Mobile Office users, the basics are this:

  • Avoid glare on the screen
  • Have the top of your screen at about eye level
  • Have your arms nearly horizontal to the keyboard
  • Your feet should be flat on the floor
  • Your hips should be slightly above your knees
  • You should be reasonably upright, with the chair supporting your back (or no back, forcing you to sit/stand straight)
  • You should be able to read the screen without leaning forward or back. If necessary, get reading glasses specially for the computer.

If you have nothing but a laptop, you are screwed have a problem.

One solution is to raise the screen or back of the laptop with a stand. The options here are endless, so I will not offer a suggestion. It can be a simple as a pair of socks or a glasses case.

Dozens of laptop stands are being sold, from large desk based base stations to light weight folding stands.

The best solution is a stand, keyboard and mouse. This may seem like an impossible load for a digital nomad, but it is not.

The following Article looks at a simple, light, solution for a travel workstation.

Tablets and smartphones

Protecting against iPad neck or tech neck.

the IOS Press web site has an excellent 11 page PDF with the results of a study done into problems caused by the typical low postion tablets are used in.

On its excellent page on Perfect PC Posture, the British Chiropractic Association says “Never sit at the computer for more than 40 minutes; less if possible,”

My personal approach is to use the widely recognised Pomodoro technique that requires working for 25 minutes and the taking a 5 minute break. I have tools in place to reinforce this approach.

Stand up, walk around, roll your shoulders, and head. Make your eyes focus on distant objects. Don’t just switch from work to checking Facebook. Actually make your body move for five minutes. Your body will thank you.

Take Regular Breaks!

Some excellent resources on this subject:

And and excellent  Wall Street Journal video:

Travelling Light for Business – Watch The Carry-on Weights

I flew Cabin luggage restrictionsout of Melbourne at 7 pm on Saturday night.

Nothing unusual there. But between arriving at the airport and boarding the plane I went through a security check, got pulled out of the line to have my backpack and bag sampled for bomb making residue, and had my carry-on bag weighed a the boarding gate by Jetstar’s new carry-on police.

The boarding gate weigh-in is because my carrier, Jetstar have just lowered the carry-on weight from 10 Kg (22 lbs) to 7 Kg (15.4 lbs) and people who exceed the 7 Kg weight are charged $50 to have their overweight bags shifted to the hold as late checked baggage.

The carry-on policeman thanked me politely but looked a little disappointed when my bag weighed it at 6 Kg. To my surprise, they did not add the small bag I carried over my shoulder to put under the seat.

I knew about the new limits, and had weighed my bags near the check-in area, and they came to 7.1 Kg, so when I saw the carry-on police ahead, I quickly shifted my Nexus 7 tablet (and case) into my pocket, taking 400 grams out of the load and putting me safely under the carry-on limit.

Others were not so lucky. I saw several people being ushered out of the queue with over-stuffed bags, headed for the $50 sin-bin of late checked luggage.

The reality is carry-on weights vary from country to country and airline to airline. Jetstar even had different rules for different routes. but now, 7 Kg combined carry-on weight is the rule. In my case, the little shoulder bag was not weighed, but that may well come. With budget airlines trying to increase profits, baggage is a money-spinner. In 2013, 20.6% of Jetstar’s revenue came from “ancillary sources” namely food, checked luggage, seat booking fees, booking fees, etc. This added up to an average of $31.60 per passenger.

Qantas reportedly comes third in the world in ancillary revenue per passenger at $US45.67, But much of that is from selling frequent flyer points to credit card providers and retailers loyalty programs.

Overall airlines extracted $US31.5 billion, or $US16 a passenger from ancillary fees in 2013. These fees are helping to get airlines back into the black.

The moral of this little story is, look carefully at what you carry, and where you carry it.

The night before I flew to Melbourne, I made a last minute switch from the HP Stream 11 laptop I am testing back to my HP Chromebook 11 because it, and its power supply were half a Kilo heavier than the Chromebook, pushing me over the 7 Kg limit. It caused problems, mainly that a selection of video and music I had saved on a Micro-SD card for the trip got left behind. I had other sources, so it was just an annoyance, but it has generated a to-do item to write a couple of travelling checklists.

I have learned a number of lessons. I am the proud owner of a hard-shell wheeled carry-on case. I bought is as a kind of walking stick last year when I had to travel while recovering from a month long issue with vertigo (dizziness & nausea when moving around) I could set the handle low, and lean on the four wheeled case as I pushed it along. It was an unusual color but a very cheap demo model, and it saved my life. Its new cousins are still costing around $300, and other similar devices are as high as $840. But now, its 2.5 Kg shell is too big a price to pay for style and convenience.

Kathmandu Lite-Haul Pack
Kathmandu Lite-Haul Pack

I flew with a 1.4 Kg (3 pound) 38 Litre Lite-haul convertible Kathmandu backpack, and discovered that 7 Kg is a totally different story to 10 Kg. Even with a less than robust back I could carry the 7 Kg bag comfortably. I did not deploy the shoulder straps once. I just carried it everywhere will only minor discomfort. I walked 14 Km in three days, 10 of them carrying the 7 Kg carry-on, and arrived home feeling fine.

I simply did not need the 2.5Kg wheely case. Next time I may carry my Nike sports bag. It weighs in at 0.74 Kg saving more than half a kilo for more important items.

200 Gram (0.44 pound) Day Pack
200 Gram (0.44 pound) Day Pack

I carry a lightweight folding backpack. it weighs 200 grams, or 0.2 Kg (0.44 pound) and folds into it’s own back pocket. It easily fits under the seat on the plane with personal items in it, but is big enough to carry 15 liters of personal stuff, shopping or warm clothing. It may not impress at a business meeting, but for a working trip it worked fine for me.

So spend some time checking that you are only travelling with what you need. Most of us add a host of might needs to the mix, and finish up fighting with too much baggage. I recommend a visit to Onebag.com for some tips on keeping it light.

My Office for Today

The Royal Exchange Hotel
The Royal Exchange Hotel

The Royal Exchange Hotel, opposite Southern Cross Station in Melbourne.

This is a quiet bistro and bar below street level and just across the road from the railway station. I arrived for a very late breakfast and ordered the Big Breakfast for $15 with coffee.

The Big Breakfast
The Big Breakfast

The Big Breakfast was indeed big, and came with coffee. Quite a meal.

I set up here and worked for some time. It is quiet, dimly lit and was a battery saver, allowing me to dim the brightness of my HP Chromebook 11 way down. After working for some 30 minutes, the Chromebook was showing 8.5 hrs of battery life remaining.