off the grid but on the cloud

Cloud computing may seem incompatible with being off-grid, but there are ways to live in the cloud even when you don’t have an Internet connection. The most common situation occurs when you are actually in the clouds — stuck on a remote mountainside with no Wi-Fi, or, more likely, Wi-Fi so slow it might as well be nonexistent.

The key to using your cloud services without a connection is preparation: You must set up offline access before you head off the grid, either to individual files or to an entire collection. Here are instructions for some of the popular options.

Google Drive

Last year, Google introduced offline access to documents you store in Google Drive, which can include spreadsheets, presentations and photos and videos that you have uploaded. The feature works only in the Chrome browser or the Chrome operating system on a Chromebook.

To make all your documents available offline, navigate to your Google Drive (drive.google.com and then sign in with your Google account). Click More, the menu item in the left-hand navigation list.

Below More, click Offline. You’ll see a prompt to download the Drive Chrome Web app. Once you install it, the option to Enable Offline will appear. Click it, and you’ll start downloading documents so you can get to them even without being online. This may take up a lot of space on your computer, so if you don’t need all your files, you might want to download individual ones instead.

There are limitations. First, spreadsheets can only be viewed, not edited, so download any spreadsheets you need before you go.

Speaking of which, it is possible to save a file locally on a Chromebook; press Ctrl-S when you’re viewing a file and then, from the Save menu, choose the Downloads folder. Many Chromebook apps also feature offline modes; check the app’s description to see if it’s available without an Internet connection.

The other caveat is that you can’t set up offline access to all your documents on an Android phone or tablet; the mobile version of Google Drive doesn’t yet support the feature. On a mobile device, you have to download individual files if you want them with you.

To do this, open the Drive app, find the file you want, long-press it and choose ‘‘Keep on this device.’’ You’ll see a little pin icon appear at the top of your display as the file downloads. To find it later, tap the Drive icon in the upper left of the app and choose ‘‘On device’’ from the menu that appears. Unfortunately, you can’t store folders this way, only individual files.

Microsoft OneDrive

Microsoft’s cloud storage service, once known as SkyDrive, also lets you make your entire collection of files available offline. In the OneDrive app, choose Settings from the lower right corner of the screen — either by swiping inward from the right on a touch-screen device or by positioning your mouse in the lower right corner, moving the pointer up, and clicking Settings. Choose Options, and then enable ‘‘Access all files offline.’’

To save space, you can download individual files instead; select a file and choose ‘‘Make offline.’’

If you’re not using the OneDrive app, you can right click or long-press OneDrive in your File Explorer menu and choose ‘‘Make available offline.’’

Like Google Drive, this bulk offline option isn’t available on Windows Phone devices. Office documents that you open on your phone while you still have a connection will show up offline for editing, but you’ll have to manually upload them back to OneDrive once you get back online.


Dropbox doesn’t have a bulk offline option; you must individually download files you want offline while you’re still online.

In the Dropbox web interface, choose the file you want to save offline. Click the down arrow in the upper right of the preview box and the file will download to the folder you choose.

On a mobile device, saving files offline is less intuitive; open the file and then click the star icon to add it to your offline ‘‘favorites.’’ You can’t edit these files, however, unless you move them somewhere more useful like Google Drive.

Dropbox does offer an easy way to sync files you create when you’re offline, however. The service creates a folder on your computer desktop that works almost like a local folder. If you create a new document while you’re disconnected and save it to your Dropbox folder, it will automatically sync to the cloud the next time you get online.

Most other cloud-based services, like Box and SugarSync, also let you download files and folders for offline access. SugarSync will detect changes that you make offline and sync them back to the cloud.


What if you’re a streaming music fan? You can’t listen to Pandora offline, as you’ve probably realized. But streaming music services like Spotify and Beats Music let you download playlists onto your devices for offline access — as long as you’re a paying customer.

In the Spotify mobile app on iOS or Android, choose one of your playlists; at the top of the list you’ll see an option that says Available Offline. Slide the button to green and the playlist will download to your device, and any songs you add will automatically download. Whenever you install Spotify on a new device, you’ll have to do this all over again; offline access doesn’t carry over across devices. You can do the same on your computer.

In Beats Music, you can set the entire app to offline mode or download individual songs, albums and playlists by clicking the plus sign in the music view and sliding the button next to ‘‘Make available offline.’’

Slacker Radio also allows offline listening with its paid subscriptions, as does Google’s music service, Google Play.

For movies and television, only one streaming video subscription lets you download films or TV for offline viewing: Amazon Instant Video. You have to be a Prime subscriber, but the feature is something Netflix and Hulu Plus can’t touch — and it even works on an iPad, not on just Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets.

Alternatively, you can rent or buy movies from iTunes or Google Play before you go.

You might be disconnected, but never fear: The cloud can follow you wherever you go.

Source: International Herald Tribune

One Response

  1. I use Google Drive both online and offline. My job has me travelling on trains quite frequently. Having access to files allows me to work whilst mobile and remote. Handy as I plan on buying an RV and going fully mobile.

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