Google Drive users no longer have to worry about accessing their documents without an Internet connection -- as long as they're using Google's Chrome browser.
Chrome now supports automatic offline syncing for Google Drive, allowing you to read and edit any document, spreadsheet or presentation even when the Internet is down. To use this feature, you must Drive's Chrome Web App installed, and you must enable offline access in the dialog box that appears.
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Chrome previously allowed offline editing for individual documents, but that meant you had to plan ahead and choose which files to sync. Now, the Drive app for Chrome syncs all files automatically.
If you edit a document while offline, those changes will appear in the online version once the Internet connection is restored.
Just a word of caution: If you edit a document offline on one computer, while someone else edits the online version, Drive will combine the text from both documents once you're back online. You won't lose any text this way, but you may have to edit down the combined work.
It would be nice if Drive offered some kind of notification or approval for any discrepancies between offline and online documents.
Google also warns users not to enable offline editing on public or shared computers, because anyone can access the data.
Chromebook reputation enhanced
In addition to benefiting Chrome users, auto-sync should also help deflect some of the criticism of Google's Chromebooks. Although detractors claim that Chromebooks are worthless without an Internet connection, that's not really true given the abundance of offline apps available. Full offline access for Google Drive documents makes Chromebooks even more useful during a power outage or while flying.
Google says offline syncing may take "a few days" to roll out. To see if it's working for you, click on the "More" tab on the left side of the screen in Google Drive, and then click "Offline." You should see all of your documents listed, along with a message about being able to visit drive.google.com for complete access.