One of the shifts we’ve seen in computing in recent years is from desktop software to web apps that load up in the browser, and Google has been at the forefront of it: Online tools such as Google Docs, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Photos and the rest can be accessed anywhere, as long as you have a web browser and internet access.
It’s not difficult to see why these apps are popular—there’s nothing to install, and no need to remember to back anything up. If you switch to a different computer, or you need to collaborate on something with other people, it’s far easier with web apps than it is if you’re dealing with files and programs stored on a local hard drive.
The only real drawback with this way of working is the need to be online at all times—but in fact, the suite of Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides software can be used offline, to some extent. You can carry on being creative and productive even while you’re on an airplane, or out in a remote cabin in the woods, or in the middle of an internet outage.
Setting up offline access
You need to do some preparatory work to make sure Docs, Sheets, and Slides can be accessed offline: It’s not just a case of firing up these tools in your browser as normal when the internet goes down.
For this to work, you need to be using either Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge as your browser (which are both based on the same Chromium code), and you need to have enough space on your laptop or desktop computer to store the necessary files—though they shouldn’t really take up much room.
Load up Google Drive and sign into your Google account, if necessary. Click the gear icon (top right), choose Settings and then General, and check the option labeled Create, open and edit your recent Google Docs, Sheets and Slides files on this device while offline.
The setting is applied across all three web apps but not across devices, so you need to enable it on every computer you use individually. You’ll see a message on screen saying that offline access is being configured, and after a few minutes it’ll be ready.
You can also make individual files available offline. Credit: Lifehacker
As the setting label states, this applies to recent files. You can also make sure a file is available offline by right-clicking it in Google Drive and choosing Make available offline, or by clicking the cloud icon next to a file title while it’s open in the browser, and enabling offline access from there.
When you open up Google Drive or the individual Docs, Sheets, or Slides pages while offline, the files that aren’t available will be grayed out—these may include other file types, such as archives you’ve uploaded, and files owned by other users.
Working with files offline
You won’t notice too many differences when working offline with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides—these tools operate more or less in the same way when you don’t have an internet connection as when you do, with some obvious exceptions (you clearly can’t load in an image from the web).
Some of the procedures are a little bit different when you’re offline. For example, if you create a new file, you need to name it straight away (it won’t instantly appear as an untitled document, spreadsheet, or presentation). You can’t rename or download files either, or move them between folders in your Google Drive account.
Files must be named right away while offline. Credit: Lifehacker
Keep your eye on the little status indicator to the right of the file name while you’re working on something—this tells you when changes have been saved to the local computer (this will show as a computer icon rather than a cloud icon, as it does when you’re online).
Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides will save up all the changes you make while offline and automatically sync them back to the live version as soon as internet access is restored. This can cause a bit of chaos for shared files, so you might want to leave those alone while you’re offline (or at least be very deliberate in the order that multiple people make edits, if several users will be offline).
Offline access on mobile
We expect you’re going to do most of your work in Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides through a regular desktop web browser, but offline access extends to the mobile apps for these tools as well, should you need to carry out reviews and make edits while your phones or tablets are offline.
In the Google Drive app for Android or iOS, tap the three dots next to a file then choose Make available offline to do just that. It’s the same if you’re using the individual apps for Docs, Sheets, or Slides, rather than the main Google Drive one—tap the three dots next to a file to find the offline option.
Offline access is available on mobile too. Credit: Lifehacker
You can also sync files to a local phone or tablet when you have a particular document, spreadsheet, or presentation open. Tap the three dots in the top right corner, then turn on the Available offline toggle switch to save it.
To see your offline files on mobile—whether you’re in the Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, or Slides app—tap the three horizontal lines (top left) from the main file list screen, then choose Offline. As with the desktop apps, any edits you make will be synced back to the web as soon as an internet connection is restored.
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