What if you could get most of your digital work done without the Internet? I have a solution for you. Take your browser offline.
I got tired of having unreliable Internet access when I was away from the cradle of my home network. I was averse to using public Wi-Fi. Data cards and tethering were okay in a crunch, but not completely satisfying. That didn’t leave me much choice but to plan my day around my Internet usage, or rather, decent Wi-Fi availability.
One day, I decided to take my tasks and data offline in every way I could manage. Of course, I could have chosen desktop apps over browser extensions. But with a low-resource netbook, I wanted to avoid installing more desktop-based software. Besides, I liked using my browser as my primary workspace.
Here are the three important tasks I configured for offline access on my browser, Firefox, and you can, too.
Sifting Through Research
Did you know you could take Wikipedia offline? There are many ways you can make crucial Web information available for offline use. The simplest way is to visit relevant Web pages when you’re online. This creates a cached copy of those pages. You can then access them once you have activated Firefox’s offline mode by clicking on File > Work Offline.
If you’re going to use the Offline mode often, you’ll need a quick way to toggle between the offline and online modes. Why not install the Work Offline toolbar button to do that?
File > Save Page As is another way to save Web pages in their entirety. The next best way is to use a read-it-later service that comes with offline access. Pocket seems like the most obvious choice here, especially now that it comes integrated into Firefox. The bad news is that Pocket doesn’t work offline in Firefox. But apps like Instapaper and Readkit do. Use them to bookmark relevant pages and make them available offline.
Feed readers like Feedly also come with a “save for later” feature to download articles for offline reading. Scrapbook is another great add-on to create offline archives of websites, Web pages, and Web clippings.
Here’s a gem for coders. The Firefox app DevDocs allows you to search through and read various API documentations offline. But first you’ll need to enable the preferred documentation and install it from the app’s Offline section.
Want to increase the disk space allocated to cached Web content? You can do that from Edit > Preferences > Advanced > Network.
Creating Notes and Blog Posts
Whether you want to jot down a few random ideas, create a to-do list, or write your next blog post, Litewrite and Writer are a couple of cool apps available to you. You don’t need to tweak any settings to get either app to work offline. Do note that Writer may not work offline if you haven’t updated your browser to the latest version. Also, some of its features (such as export) don’t work without an Internet connection.
Want a full featured app? Try the popular Markdown editor StackEdit. It offers offline support and has a Firefox app as well. Some office suites come with a full or partial offline access feature as well. Zoho offers this option for its Writer service.
A word of caution here. If you’re using a public computer, it’s best not to download sensitive content for offline usage. It will be accessible to other people using that computer.
Also, we recommend testing the offline and sync features in an app before you use it to type out a wall of text when you’re off the Internet. Otherwise you could end up losing your notes to faulty functionality.
Firefox does not have an add-on like Chrome’s awesome Gmail Offline extension. So I’m indulging in a bit of cheating here — using Thunderbird instead of Firefox. Download your entire Gmail inbox to a single MBOX file via Google Takeout. Then follow the instructions in Chris’ guide to import your mail into Thunderbird. You can now read your mails offline.
Like Firefox, Thunderbird also has an offline mode. Activate it by clicking on File > Offline > Work Offline. Thunderbird saves any messages you compose offline to the Unsent folder. It prompts you to send those messages once you’re back online.
Chrome Users, Rejoice!
If you use Chrome, you have a wider and better choice of apps and extensions to set up Chrome to work without Internet access. For example, you can:
- Edit images using Pixlr Touch Up
- Edit docs, sheets, and slides with Office Editing for Docs, Sheets & Slides
- Create flowcharts and diagrams with Gliffy
- Create mindmaps with MindMup Desktop
- Edit code with the Zed Code Editor
Of course, you don’t need to pick between Chrome and Firefox. Installing both will give you more ways to work better offline.
This is a Stopgap Solution
You will need to go online about once a day to get updates to your online accounts and sync the changes you made offline. But it’s a relief to know that you can still get by until you have Internet connectivity. There are a few snags in this approach though:
- You’ll have to save heavy-duty design and development work for later or go with desktop apps.
- Depending on the browser you use, you may not find good/preferred offline tools for some of your tasks.
- Web archiving add-ons may not work for certain content such as videos or pages that require you to log in.
Despite these drawbacks, this strategy can work quite well. You’ll find it to be quite the time-saver if you’re always on the move and can’t guarantee Internet access when you need it.
What’s Your Approach to Browser Productivity?
We all have our strategies to get the most out of the tools we use. And it’s a good thing, too. It forces us to come up with unusual solutions to smooth out the kinks in our workflow.
There’s no such thing as 100% percent efficiency. That’s for robots. We’re better off focusing on how we can work better so that we may get much-needed time away from our computers.
Take it offline. That’s my mantra for making my browser more productive. What’s yours? Which tactic has transformed how you work? C’mon, let’s have some pointers now.