6 productivity tips for Chromebook power users

These smart features make working on a Chromebook snappier and seamless

Chromebook Productivity Tips
Koman90 via Wikimedia

Chromebook productivity tips

Chromebooks are more than toy computers for running the Chrome Web browser. Google’s rapid development of Chrome OS has given the cloud-based operating system a significant set of power-user tools to help make you more productive and to ensure your data is secured.

The Chromebook has, in fact, become my favorite computer. Its combination of rapid search, powerful Web apps, and continuous improvement make it excellent for getting real work done, as long as you’re willing to adjust your computing habits to make the most of the Chromebook’s cloud-centric computing style.

Whether you’re all in or still exploring what a Chromebook has to offer, you’ll want to know about these tips and tweaks. Like Windows and OS X, Chrome OS now has its own sets of customization options and security settings that can suit your work style and ensure all your data is safely locked away.

Master the app launcher

Master the app launcher

Google has replaced the caps lock button on Chromebooks with a dedicated search button that provides a useful, lighting-fast method for initiating a Google search. Anyone whose work involves researching information on the Internet will find this essential. Once you start typing, hit Enter to select one of the autosuggest results or finish out your query, which will pull up your search results in another tab. This method is also the fastest way to get to your bookmarks and any websites you visit often, as these factor into the Chromebook’s search autosuggestions. Need to use a calculator? Type in an equation to the search bar and Google will spit out an answer.

Plus, if you use the Google Now personal assistant service, tap the search button, and you’ll see the first hint of Google Now’s information cards on the landing page before you type in a search query. Swipe down (or up if you’re using Australian-mode scrolling) to check out what Google’s personal assistant has in store for you. It couldn’t be easier.

The search button also acts as an app launcher. Tap it, then click All Apps to pull up a grid of your app icons. Next, swipe to the left to navigate through the drawer to access any of your applications.

As you can see, the Chromebook search button acts as a gateway to productivity. But there is one more search-button feature worth mentioning: You can change the function for this key, even restoring the caps lock function, in your Chromebook settings.

Take charge of your Web apps

Take charge of your Web apps

There’s more flexibility than you may realize for how your Chrome apps look and perform on your Chromebook. For example, you can set them to launch as a full window, pinned tab, or regular tab.

I find it helps to open Gmail, Google Drive, and Play Music in their own window. This way, they function like dedicated applications, such as Microsoft Outlook or Word on a Windows desktop. To do this, right-click the app icon either in the app grid or on the shelf (the Chrome equivalent of the Windows taskbar). Select “Open as window,” and it will do exactly that. To change the behavior, perform the same action and unselect this alternative.

If you find yourself using a particular app regularly, you can open the launcher, right-click (or two-finger click on the trackpad) and select “Pin to shelf.” It will always be ready for you on the shelf.

Rapid search of Gmail and Google Drive

Rapid search of Gmail and Google Drive

If you're a Chromebook user, there’s a good chance you use a number of Google services like Gmail and Drive. One of the best features these services offer is the ability to use Google’s search prowess for finding the right message or file.

Chrome allows you to look for the right piece of information inside these services right from the omnibox (the combined search and address bar at the top of the page). For example, you can search through your Gmail, Drive, or other Google services without navigating to those specific sites.

To make this happen, you’ll need to work a few setup tricks. Click on the browser’s options menu, then go to Settings > Manage search engines. Next, scroll down to the bottom of the Other search engines box. Then add Gmail in the “Add a new search engine” box at the bottom, type Gmail as the keyword, and the following URL:

https://mail.google.com/mail/ca/u/0/#apps/%s

Follow the same procedure for Google Drive. Use Drive (or any other term you prefer) as the keyword and insert this URL:

http://drive.google.com/?hl=en&tab=bo#search/%s

Next time you want to find a message or file, there will be no need to open Gmail or Drive. Simply hit the search button, type Gmail or Drive, and press Tab. You’ll see a box that indicates you’re going to search in that particular application. Type your query, hit Enter, and you’ll arrive in that particular app with the requested search results.

Keep your app folders in sync

Keep your app folders in sync

If you’re the organizational type, you may have meticulously sorted your apps. If so, nothing’s more frustrating than switching computers and searching for where that particular app is located.

Just like you can do on your mobile device, Chrome’s app launcher allows you to drag and drop apps into folders. By default, the organization won’t replicate to another computer unless you enable a Chrome flag that tells your Chromebook to do this.

To make this happen, type chrome://flags into the omnibox. Then look for the flag that is labeled enable-sync-app-list and select it. Next time you fire up your work or personal computer, you should see the apps in the same groupings as what’s on your Chromebook.

Snap away with those windows

Snap away with those windows

One of the best productivity features around is Windows Snap, which debuted with Windows 7. Chrome offers a similar concept, allowing you to split the screen between two different applications.

You can do this with the following hotkey combination: <Alt>-] and <Alt>-[. Or click and hold the top of a window and drag it to the left or right of the screen. This will make referencing another browser or working from two different spreadsheets significantly easier.

Elevate your security with Smart Lock Beta

Elevate your security with Smart Lock Beta

Security is important, especially if all your critical work details are kept in your cloud-enabled accounts.

A Chromebook’s security setup is pretty basic -- you can lock your computer with a password, which is always a wise practice. The most advanced method is to try out Chrome’s Smart Lock feature. It lets you unlock your Chromebook with your Android phone. Not only is this faster, it ensures that if your Chromebook grows legs and walks away, no one can hack your password to get into your stuff.

To enable this, go to Settings > Smart Lock for Chromebook (Beta). Make sure Bluetooth is flipped on for both your Chromebook and Android device. Smart Lock will then pair the two, creating a secure connection for access to your Chromebook when the device is nearby. Better yet, it will remember your phone and enable entry for any other Chromebooks that you sign in with.

The takeaway from all these features is that Chromebooks continue to pick away at the wall that separates a browser from an operating system. Google has rolled out a lot of smart features that make working on a Chromebook a speedy process if you’re willing to learn some new tricks and shortcuts. You may not be ready to jump all in to Google’s cloud, but it could be a viable option in the near future if the pace of innovation continues.