The smart worker’s guide to using a Chromebook offline


Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A Chromebook is just a glorified browser in a box. Or this one: It’s like a “real” computer but without all the good stuff — and it’s practically useless offline.

You see where we’re going with this, right? Those are all wildly inaccurate myths that have plagued Chrome OS since its start. To be fair, some of them did have nuggets of reality back in the platform’s earliest days, when it was still a small-scale, beta-like project within Google. But for years upon years now, Chromebooks have been capable productivity tools that offer ample advantages over traditional desktop operating systems and work just as well as any other computers offline.

When it comes to offline effectiveness, the key — just like with a Windows or a Mac system — is a healthy dose of planning and preparation. Some cloud-centric services require a touch of setup before they’ll be functional offline, and some common work tasks need specific third-party software in place in order to be handled without an active internet connection. None of that, however, is difficult to do. And it’s certainly not impossible.

If you’re using a Chromebook for work, think through the following four areas to make sure your computer is offline-ready and primed for productivity before the need arises. Then, when your next business flight takes off (hopefully soon?), skip the barely usable airplane Wi-Fi and instead sit back, relax, and enjoy your Slack-interruption-free productivity session.

1. Make sure your Google apps are prepared for offline use

Google’s core productivity apps are completely offline-capable — but in most cases, it’s up to you to take the initiative and set them up appropriately.

For Gmail:

  • Open the Gmail website from your Chromebook, click the gear icon in the upper-right corner, and select “See all settings” from the menu that appears. Click “Offline” in the menu at the top of the settings screen.
  • Check the box next to “Enable offline mail.”
  • Make sure to carefully consider the remaining options on the page — how many days’ worth of email should be stored, whether attachments should be made available offline, and whether data should remain on your computer even after you sign out (fine for a single-person computer) or should instead be erased and resynced every time you sign out and back in (more advisable for a system that’s shared by multiple people) — and choose the settings that make the most sense for your situation.
  • Click the “Save Changes” button at the bottom of the screen, accept any confirmation prompts that pop up, and then wait while Gmail reloads itself and downloads your data.
01 chromebook offline gmail JR Raphael/IDG

Setting Gmail up for offline use takes all of 30 seconds to do. (Click any image in this story to enlarge it.)

There’s just one more step, and it’s an important one: Set a bookmark in your browser for Gmail by pressing Ctrl-D — or, easier yet, create a shortcut for the site in your Chrome OS shelf by clicking Chrome’s three-dot menu icon while viewing Gmail, selecting “More tools,” and then selecting “Create shortcut.” Either way will let you pull up the site and access your mail when there isn’t an active connection.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.



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