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Chromebook power tips: How to work smarter online and offline

Chris Hoffman | Jan. 23, 2014
Don't let the "Scroogled"-spouting Pawn Stars guys fool you: Chromebooks aren't useless hunks of plastic.

Don't let the "Scroogled"-spouting Pawn Stars guys fool you: Chromebooks aren't useless hunks of plastic.

Google's Chrome OS has matured into a functional operating system, and not just because Web browsers themselves are evolving into something spectacular. Beyond a desktop-class browser and other software improvements, Chromebooks offer a full keyboard, mouse support, and peripheral ports.

They do involve a learning curve, though. The Chrome OS somewhat resembles Windows, but its small differences can trip you up, and some of the most productivity-oriented features are buried. Whether you're new to Chrome or an old dog looking for some Googley new tricks, this guide will help you sidestep the OS's most glaring flaws and squeeze as much productivity as possible out of your Chromebook.

Mouse and keyboard tips
The changes start with the Chromebook's touchpad — specifically, the apparent lack of a right-click button. But look closer: Pressing two fingers down simultaneously on the bottom of the touchpad brings up a right-click-style options menu, so you can copy links and open new tabs to your heart's content.

Chromebook touchpads also support two-finger scrolling, and you can tweak advanced options — changing the pointer speed and enabling tap-to-click, for instance — by clicking Chrome's menu button, opening Settings, and diving into the Device section. Chromebooks also support USB and Bluetooth mice, though you'll need to click the status area at the bottom-right corner of the screen and ensure that Bluetooth is enabled for the latter. Nearby Bluetooth devices will appear in the panel; click their entries to pair them with your Chromebook.

Keyboard shortcuts are crucial for productivity on a Chromebook, as they are on any other laptop. Your Chromebook supports all the standard keyboard shortcuts, including Ctrl-C, Ctrl-X, and Ctrl-V for copy, cut, and paste, respectively. Even better, pressing Ctrl-Alt-? brings up an interactive diagram showing all the keyboard shortcuts available.

Taking screenshots is easy: Press Ctrl-Switch Window (which may be an icon on some Chromebook models). You'll see a confirmation dialog box, and the screenshot will save as a .png file to your Chromebook's local storage — you'll find it in the Files app.

Working offline
It's true: Chromebooks thrive on an active Internet connection. Although you have many ways to stay connected to the Internet, from tethering to tracking down free Wi-Fi, sometimes you just have to unplug. Chromebooks can now function offline, but you'll need to set up offline access ahead of time to avoid a nasty surprise.

If you're using a Chromebook, you probably already rely on Google services such as Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Calendar. If you don't use those services, consider switching: Google's services offer offline support on Chrome OS, while Microsoft's and Office Web Apps do not.


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