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In Pictures: 15 Chrome OS productivity apps that work offline

Chromebooks are lightweight, inexpensive and efficient - in other words, great for business travel. But can these Cloud-based laptops operate when you're off Wi-Fi? Sure they can -- here are 15 productivity apps that can work with you when you're offline.

  • When Google released the first retail Chromebooks in 2011, the minimalist hardware and software were like a breath of fresh air compared to the relatively bloated PCs and Macs. However, while Chromebooks were great for working online, there wasn't much you could do if your network connection went down. That, however, has changed. New apps have brought the platform closer to traditional computing by working offline. In fact, there are currently about 200 offline apps available, including many productivity apps -- and the list is growing. You can even watch movies or edit videos offline. Here are 15 offline apps that make a Chromebook more useful for email, note-taking, graphics and more.

  • Business Processes Simulator Although it won't cut it for modeling truly complicated process simulations, Business Processes Simulator can examine and optimize how a process works. After creating a flow chart that models the business process, you can start the simulator, which advances the process in one-minute increments. This allows you to look at the timing and interaction between the different elements. A Log window at the bottom tracks changes during the simulator's run. At any time, you can pause the simulation, fast forward it or jump to the end, as if it were a video; there's no rewind option. While the process runs, the program can show details and graph critical items, like time allocation by task and employee utilization rate, key metrics for streamlining a process.

  • DOSBox for Google Chrome Want to use legacy DOS software on a Chromebook? Version 0.74 of DOSBox for Google Chrome emulates x86 operations. As a result, you can play with a bunch of old DOS games and business applications, from Word 5.5 for DOS or WordStar 3.3 to Borland's Turbo C. You'll need to download, email or put the program on a USB drive to install it, but it's worth the effort. I loaded PictView 1.94 and had no problem using it -- a blast from the past. While DOSBox doesn't work with every program, the company has put together a compatibility list. Keep in mind, however, that you may need to learn (or relearn) the syntax of DOS with DIR and CD commands; luckily, DOSBox has built-in help.

  • Forestpin Lite The next time you need to analyze your Web data for fraud or other issues, Forestpin can help with on-the-go data mining. You can try it out with a free three-month trial version; after that, the app costs $9. Once you've registered, you start by either opening a comma-delimited data file or pasting text into Forestpin's interface. It can organize and sort a list by a number of parameters and analyzes the data for problems such as duplicates, missing entries in a sequence, the frequency of numerals, and Z-factor analysis. The app presents the results in attractive graphs and charts that can be incorporated into a report or memo, making this lightweight program a heavy lifter.

  • Gliffy Diagrams Gliffy Diagrams puts a variety of business chart styles at your fingertips. The app can create business process modeling, flowcharts, entity relationship and BPMN charts, among others. There's even a section for mocking up a user interface. Just select the category you want to work with, grab a shape, a text box or other item and place it on the interface's grid background. Add more items and connect them with lines. The app includes a good assortment of geometric shapes and standard flowchart symbols, standardized BPMN shapes and Venn diagram circles in a variety of colors. In addition, individual items can be grouped and snapped to a grid. However, you can neither color nor rotate them. When you're done, the chart can be exported as an image.

  • Gmail Offline Gmail Offline lets you read and write emails offline and then automatically exchange them when you're online. The app caches your list of contacts so you can address and write emails while disconnected. Gmail Offline lists unread emails on the left and shows the active item's contents on the right; it displays a contact's image when one is available and (like Gmail) defaults to a pastel-colored icon otherwise. The app is currently in beta, but worked fine for me during two weeks of daily use. Gmail Offline doesn't allow you to embed an image in an email, although you can attach it. That being said, the app is useful for getting emails written when you're on the road.

  • History Eraser App History Eraser is a single-purpose app that lets you quickly and easily remove key personal information from Chrome. Just check off any of the app's 22 items, including browsing history, cache, download history and/or cookies; History Eraser will delete them. It can remove any Web-related items for the current session, or you can specify any time between the past hour and the first time you ever used the machine. You can also set up a custom mix of items or use the program's presets for an Easy, Medium and Hard cleaning. For example, with History Eraser set to Easy, it took 30 seconds for me to clear a month's worth of Web history, cookies and cache data, covering my online tracks.

  • Invoice Template and Client Billing If your business runs on invoices, vCita's Invoice Template can streamline this tedious task. It's quick and easy: After entering my company's information, I was creating invoices in about a minute. Once made, they can be printed or emailed to a client. The bills are professional-looking, can include a logo and can be denominated in a variety of currencies for international firms. There's a section for a discount and three levels of sales taxes. When you're online, the app can track who has paid and who hasn't with its online Dashboard. A big bonus for small firms is that vCita allows you to accept credit card or PayPal online payment but doesn't charge any extra commission.

  • Mind Mapr Mind Mapr can help you make connections among the flotsam and jetsam of your life. You start with a blank grid and enter a central idea, theme or goal. You then add supporting or peripheral ideas to the resulting diagram, with links that are connected in a hierarchical manner. It's a little tedious at first, but before you know it, the structure of the concept has emerged. Along the way you can move items around on the diagram, zoom in and out, and change fonts and colors. If you want, you can export the idea diagram as an image or print it.

  • My Time Organizer My Time Organizer can help you juggle a variety of tasks and deadlines. The app presents a weekly or monthly calendar view. Just drag the bar for Event, Task or Note to the correct day and type in the appointment -- or you can use voice input. The app will automatically remind you anywhere between 5 and 60 minutes before the event's start time. You can personalize the interface with your choice of colors and color-coded items for urgency (like red for immediate), but the app doesn't automatically arrange items by start time -- something that could become a problem if you have a rapidly changing schedule. After using My Time Organizer for two weeks, I found I could squeeze more into my day.

  • Pocket If you often find online material that you want to read later, try Pocket. The app puts a small checkmark icon next to the Chrome browser's address bar. When you click the icon, it saves the contents you're current looking at -- including images and all the text, including additional pages -- to Pocket's site and synchronizes it with your Chromebook's local storage. Later, you can read the entire document even if you're disconnected. There are some limitations if you're reading a page offline -- for example, Pocket doesn't download videos. And while you can choose the size and color of your typeface and add tags for content, you can't create folders to organize the material. Still, it's a great way to keep up with your reading.

  • Quick Note This simple note-taking program for Chromebooks is great for quickly getting ideas down. Its minimalist approach provides just enough features. You type your notes on a yellow legal pad template. It uses a single sans-serif typeface, but you can use the key combos of Control I, U, and B for italics, underline and bold. You can add images, but the app doesn't support drawing. Notes are automatically saved locally; the file is named based on the first words typed (although you can rename it). The most recent item comes up when you start Quick Note while a list on the left shows the others. At any time, the notes can be copied and pasted into other programs or synced via the Diigo file-sharing service.

  • Sketchpad 3.5 Sketchpad 3.5 is essential if you want to work with images while offline. Sketchpad offers the essentials, like drawing freehand or arranging geometric figures, just enough for sketching a map or converting among image formats. It has an easy-to-use pallete for selecting colors as well as the ability to add textures and gradients. I was able to doodle with the Chromebook's touchpad, but it works much better with a touch-screen system, like the Acer C720P. The app has a variety of drawing styles, including crayon, pencil and spray paint; you can also add text boxes. I really like the eraser and the ability to undo mistakes. When done, the drawing can be exported as a PDF or the image can be compressed in a Zip file.

  • Unit Converter I often go to websites to convert feet to meters or grams to ounces. The appropriately-named Unit Converter does this task offline. The interface is as basic as it gets: a 3 x 3 grid of blue rectangles for converting everything from Length to Frequency. Inside each is a pull-down menu for choosing the input and output units as well as a box to enter the number you want converted. The answer pops up in a box. There's a cornucopia of conversions that includes Celsius to Fahrenheit, atmospheres to Pascals and miles-per-hour to kilometers-per-hour. If you've got ounces and need liters, Unit Converter's got your number.

  • Unreadable Unreadable lets you send out sensitive information without worrying about prying eyes. Whether it's a credit card number or the location of a new factory, Unreadable can keep personal and confidential information private. Just type or paste your snippet or phrase into an entry field and assign it a password. The app scrambles the information using an AES encryption algorithm with a 256-bit key. Once it's scrambled, you can send the encrypted text to a colleague via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. To unscramble it, they'll need a copy of Unreadable and the encryption key (sent separately); if you want, Unreadable will include instructions with the email.

  • Writer This fast, basic word processor is for when you don't want anything to get between your keyboard and the screen. A throwback to early computers with monochrome CRT-based monitors, Writer displays bright green type on a black background. It has an undo feature, a selection of 31 fonts and the ability to export your document in a variety of formats or send it to a Google Cloud Printer (when you're online, of course). It does, however, lack creature comforts like spell-checking and a search function. A Pro version of Writer adds a real-time word counter, thesaurus and revision history; it costs $5 a month. Brian Nadel is a frequent contributor to Computerworld.

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