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.

 

Three Steps to Securing Your Online Documents

Google Drive & Docs
Google Drive & Docs

You want your documents and data to be secure, accessible everywhere and easy to access. As the saying goes, You can have any two of those requirements you want, but never all three at once. It is simply impossible to have all three. Unfortunately, most people choose easy over secure, and then complain bitterly when their documents are stolen and made public. Or simply deleted.

The dream of instant access to all of you documents is now a reality with cloud based services such as Google Docs and Drive, Dropbox and a host of other services.

You can sit down at any computer or tablet and access almost all your documents immediately.

But there is a downside to that. Others can also access documents from the cloud if they have your login details. They can access your documents if they can access your computer.

So how do you ensure the security of cloud hosted documents? Let’s look at the ups and downs of adequate security.

1. Choose a Good Password

Number one on the list is the level of security we have on our cloud account. The most obvious question is, how good is your password? If your password is 123456 or monkey, secret, letmein or similar, you have a major problem. Security breaches over the last few years have resulted in millions of passwords being leaked. These passwords have been analysed by both good guys and bad guys, and now everyone knows the million or so most used passwords.

For the curious, I have listed the 12 most common passwords of 2013. If you are using one of these, bow your head is shame, and know that any time a hacker wants your data, he will have it in minutes…

  1. password
  2. 123456
  3. 12345678
  4. abc123
  5. qwerty
  6. monkey
  7. letmein
  8. dragon
  9. 111111
  10. baseball
  11. iloveyou
  12. trustno1
Lastpass Password Manager
Lastpass Password Manager

Clever passwords are not so clever. If you think s3cret is more secure that secret, think again m0nkey and monkey are pretty much the same when someone decides to use a password list of a million common passwords to crack your account. Use a long, random, different password for every site you visit. If you cannot remember passwords, use a password manager app or plugin for your computer or browser. I use Lastpass, and have had no problems with it. I let Lastpass generate passwords for me. Lastpass is highly respected, well designed and a Trust No One (TNO) app. Lastpass cannot give your passwords to anyone, because they do not have them. they are encrypted for everyone but you.

Don’t Save The Password on Your Computer. Do NOT write your passwords down in a file named Passwords and save it on your desktop. Just read about the Sony hack to find the down side of that approach.

Add Two Factor Authentication

Then, for better security add two-factor authentication.

Google Authenticator
Google Authenticator

For Google, Dropbox and Lastpass, and many more online services, an authenticator app like Google Authenticator or Authy work perfectly. I prefer Authy because I can make it require a PIN when it starts up. There is a little effort involved in getting an Authenticator working, but they are well documented. Just be prepared to spend 10 or 15 minutes setting it up on your devices

Authenticator
Authenticator

You need the app running on your phone or tablet, preferably both, and when you log into your cloud service from a new computer, or every few weeks, you must authenticate by providing a six-digit code that changes every 30 seconds. This means you need the password and the mobile phone with the authenticator to log into your cloud account.

Print out a few “Get out of jail” keys so you can log in without your device in an emergency. But secure these printed keys well. See the documentation for your cloud provider.

Secure Your Computer, Phone  and Tablet

Authenticator App
Authenticator App

This makes it very difficult to get into your cloud accounts from another computer. However is someone steals your laptop, phone or tablet while they are unlocked, they will have access.

So make sure you have a password or PIN that is strong enough to keep a thief out. Ensure that a PIN or password is required to access your computer whenever it starts or comes out of standby.

Remember, if someone steals your phone and can access your cloud accounts and your  Authenticator, they can change the password. So keep that phone or tablet secure.

I always close the lid of my laptop or HP Chromebook 11 when I walk away from it is a shared space. In fact I rarely get more than a couple of meters away in public or shared space.

I have made a habit of putting everything into a pocket or bag when I put it down in a public or shared space. Basically I treat a laptop, phone or tablet the way I treat cash. I NEVER leave it lying around unattended.

Here is an example of why…

If you work in an office or have a desktop computer, make sure you lock it when you get up and walk away. Having a screensaver that locks it after a few minutes is probably enough in an office environment. I work largely alone in my home office, so I simply set

Chromebook Lock Button
Chromebook Lock Button

the screensaver to come on after five minutes. If I was is a co-working space or an office with a lot of people, I would (and have) activated the screensaver manually when I walk away. This is easy to do on computers running Linux. I think it also an option on later versions of Windows. On Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, it is in the bottom right corner of the status window.

Remember the simple security rule. If someone can access your unsecured hardware, they can do pretty much anything. A running, logged in PC is the crown jewels for a thief. Don’t assume everyone in your office is trustworthy.

Follow these three steps, and you will be well on the way to having secure and safe access to your cloud based files and documents.

There is a price. It takes a little longer to log into your account, there is a bit more friction. But after a few days it becomes second nature.

Enjoy! – Phil Stephens

Google Docs / Drive Now Has Add-ons

Drive Add-ons
Drive Add-ons

The big news for Google Docs / Drive users this week is that Drive now has add-ons or plugins.

Go into Drive, Create a new document or sheet and you will find a new menu option, “Add-ons”, and from there you can see a list of add-ons that can be installed in Drive.

Add-on list
Add-on list

The current crop of add-ons include label printing, mail-merge, faxing, grammar checking and inserting graphs, charts and mind-maps.

This ability to add what you want, and exclude what you do NOT want is a shot across the bows of Microsoft Office. Office has, famously added everything including the kitchen sink, and then charged a small fortune for the privilege of upgrading to the next, even more bloated version.

Add-ons menu
Add-ons menu

Google is allowing third parties to build tools that many people want, and then plug then into the Drive ecosystem. I hope the ability to sell these add-ons is there, because good software should be paid for. It takes a lot of work to write and maintain these tools. Many developers fall back on ad supported software, but this often provides a poor experience for the user.

I want to try before I buy, but am happy to pay for tools that I use.

So instead of hundreds of dollars for each copy of Microsoft Office, the idea of paying nothing, or a couple of dollars for each feature I actually want is compelling.

Check out the video here:

Google Docs just got ADDINS! this is a huge step forward:

 

HP Chromebook 11 Review, My New Best Friend

The original HP Chromebook 11
The original HP Chromebook 11

Recently I took delivery of my new workhorse, a Google HP Chromebook 11. (http://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/devices/hp-chromebook-11/) The packaging alone made me fall in love with this little device. The moulded white cardboard box with rounded edges that mirror the rounded corners and edges of the Chromebook made me want to touch it. I thought it was plastic, but once opened, it is clearly a recyclable paper material

I think everyone has learned from Apple that the product should be front and centre, and not buried in packaging, and the HP 11 packaging follows this rule. Lift the lid off the box, and it is the first thing you see.

Somehow the photos I have seen made me think the HP 11 was thicker than it is. I knew the weight, only 1Kg, before I saw it, but the size and lack of weight is still amazing me.

HP 11 From the Front
HP 11 From the Front

The box has the Chromebook, charger, a card with the three steps to use it (switch it on, select a network, log in) and that is pretty much it.

The screen is the standard (for most Chromebooks) 1366 x 768 resolution. I love this size, My Asus Zenbook has much higher resolution, and frankly the tiny characters and icons are a problem in the readability stakes, I keep fiddling with settings looking for something more readable. The screen is noticeably better than the Samsung, and people who have compared the machines say it is much better that the Acer 720 Chromebook. The Acer is much faster, but for me, the micro-USB charging and superior screen are the winning features. I want to travel with one power supply only. The HP Chromebook 11 allows that.

I quickly power wiped my Samsung and passed it to my son. He has been hard at work configuring it to his liking.

My only disappointment was that the supplier, Harvey Norman Launceston did not have a SlimPort adapter to allow me to connect the Chromebook to my 22″ External monitor. The HP uses the newer and better SlimPort technology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DisplayPort#SlimPort) rather than MHL to access an external monitor through the micro-USB port.

I have (an expensive) MHL adapter I bought for my Samsung Galaxy SIII, and rarely use. MHL requires an external USB power source. The Slimport is different. It is self powered, but in most cases allows the device to receive power through a second socket. I have ordered a Slimport adapter on line, with a 5-7 day delivery for an extra $10.

MyDP Slimport Adapter
MyDP Slimport Adapter

It is still half the price I would have paid Harvey Norman if their had been one in stock. I prefer to support local suppliers when I can, but in this case necessity overrides local business profits.

In the meantime, I am using the Chromebook display with a stand that lifts the computer slightly to save neck strain, and it is working quite well.

The speakers, hidden under the keyboard are quite good, and surprisingly loud. Some have complained about distortion, but sounds surprisingly good to me.. It plays music and uses Hangouts with no noticeable issues for me. And you can always plug in headphones or speakers.

The keyboard is excellent. I dislike rattles, but this keyboard has a firm feel with good movement and no rocking or clattering. The keyboard is not back-lit, but that is hardly surprising, and with the white keytops, is pretty visible in low light. The keys are textured and feel quite nice to type on. Like all Chromebooks, the keyboard layout it the Google Chromebook design, with dedicated keys for search, changing apps, moving forward and back in the browser and taking the browser to full-screen. It also controls volume, screen brightness and mute. Having the soft power button next to the backspace key has caused problems for some, but I have never had an issue with it.

Many people complain about lack of a delete key, but Alt + Backspace is delete, and if you REALLY want it, Alt + Search is Caps Lock, something I do not miss at all.

HP Chromebook 11 Keyboard
HP Chromebook 11 Keyboard

The HP 11 was famously pulled from sale in the US due to overheating and melting chargers. My Australian charger works fine, but I confess, it still feels pretty warm after a full charge. I will monitor it for a while before leaving the charger unattended overnight.

I tend to be influenced by functionality rather than industrial design and beauty, but this time, I have to say, it really looks sweet!

The light weight and effectively instant suspend and resume mean that this laptop will be doing a lot of travelling with me. I have made a slipcover out of Mylar bubble wrap and gaffer tape as some protection.

I will write again when I have the Slimport adapter to test my full desktop setup.

My 31 Day Chromebook Challenge Ends Today

Samsung Chromebook
The Samsung Chromebook

The 31 day Chromebook Challenge has been… challenging. There have been some failures. I have learned a lot and developed a huge respect for Chromebooks as a daily work tool.

I have also gone back to Windows or Linux on several occasions, and then realised there was an alternative that could have been used on  the Chromebook.

The Lessons – Chromebooks Offline

I spend a good part of my day on the road and away from Internet connectivity. That has been one of the challenges I faced with the Chromebook. It rose to the occasion beautifully. It is lighter than my Asus Zenbook, and a lot cheaper. I feel no fear of damaging it shoving it in and out of my backpack. I have saved hours on sleep and wakeup time.

ASUS Zenbook UX31E
ASUS Zenbook UX31E

My Zenbook crashes if I suspend it while it is connected to an HDMI port and external USB drive. Often it will not disconnect the external drive without me shutting the computer down and rebooting it. On one occasion I lost and entire day when I had to wait to get home to allow it an hour to go through recovering from a nasty BSOD when I woke it up after unplugging the HDMI cable to my external monitor. A day lost.

The Chromebook handles peripherals reliably and instantly

My Chromebook desk setup
My Chromebook desk setup

The chromebook goes to sleep instantly. If the external monitor is disconnected, all open windows are re-sized and appear on the Laptop screen. When the external monitor and USB devices are connected they are found and activated immediately. Open windows can then be dragged back to the the external monitor. The screen resolution is identified correctly and silently. I simply have to go into settings to identify the orientation of the second monitor once, and ChromeOS remembers it.

The Chromebook is Fast

Asus ultrabook
Asus ultrabook

My Zenbook is A quad core i5 processor. It is fast, it is hot. The fan runs much of the time. After a month with the totally silent Chromebook I find that the fans and heat have become quite distracting.

The Chromebook boots faster than the Zenbook despite the humble Exynos processor. It simply has less work to do. Google us using the Linux kernel for ChromeOS and have stripped alls sorts of un-necessary stuff out of the system. It boots fast, goes to sleep instantly, wakes up instantly, and then spends a few seconds discovering anything plugged into the ports. It takes about 5 seconds to identify and activate the HDMI monitor, USB network card, mouse, 3Tb western Digital drive and my 64Gb Kensington USB thumb drive, if they are present. Otherwise I just lift the lid and start typing.

There has been criticism of the Exynos based Chromebooks browsing slowly, and I notice that scrolling can be jumpy when multiple tabs are open. The graphics works fine, I can play full screen video with no problems. The number of tabs seems to be the issue. Chromebooks need more than 2Gb of RAM for heavy users. But I am using a music player, countdown timer, Keep, Drive, a couple of docs, and perhaps a dozen tabs. It runs faster that the Zenbook with a similar load of applications. There is simply less overhead.

The Chromebook Cannot do some things

  • Evernote cannot be used offline. I am now using Evernote much less, and relying on Keep and Google Drive
  • Truecrypt cannot be used on Chrome, so my secure volumes are closed to me.
  • Chrome does not support Scanners, so OCR is a problem. But using the Drive app on Android to photograph a document makes it a searchable PDF.
  • It cannot capture or Edit audio or video while offline. There are apps that work online. I will continue to use Linux to edit video and audio.
  • I cannot access files stored in Dropbox unless I download them while online

In Conclusion

This post is getting too long, so I will simply say, The Samsung Chromebook will continue to be my daily carry. It will travel with me, be used constantly, and be connected to a monitor and charger when I get home. The Zenbook will be used once or twice a week for the things I simply cannot do on the Chromebook.

I am very interested in the HP 11 Chromebook. It has similar specifications to the Samsung, but is lighter, has a better screen, and charges from a micro-USB adapter.

I will follow up with a later post. – Enjoy! – Phil Stephens