Chromebooks have always made sense for heavy Google services users. But they’ve been less ideal for devotees of Dropbox, OneDrive, or other cloud storage services, since Google Drive was the only service that talked to the file menu.
With some simple setup, you can now view and open anything from your preferred non-Googley cloud service from right inside the Chrome OS file menu. This makes it easy to preview, open, or upload a file without the need to jump through excessive hoops.
Here are the steps you need to follow to put all your cloud-stored files one simple click away. Once you do this, your Chromebook will feel more like a traditional PC, with easy access to whatever you need.
New tools in the Files menu
To get started, launch the Files app on your Chromebook. On the sidebar, select Add new services. You’ll see several add-ons that you can install. (Note that these are third-party, unofficial add-ons.) Each one is for a different cloud service provider or server connection type.
Along with major ones like Dropbox and OneDrive, there are capabilities for an SFTP or WebDAV connections. If your organization uses secure connections, those add-ons ensure you’re not left out of the loop just because you use a Chromebook.
The Chrome Web Store also offers similar extensions for additional cloud tools, but you’ll have to dig to find the right one if you use a less popular service.
Next, click Install and Add for the service you wish to connect to your Chromebook. You’ll see a pop-out window; click Mount. This brings you to a login screen where you sign in with your Dropbox, OneDrive, or other requisite credentials.
After you log in, a new folder will appear in your file menu. Click on it to see all the folders and files that are saved in that cloud account.
Work with files like a traditional PC
Once you’ve set this up, your files are accessible just as they would be on a PC. It removes a huge headache for many when it comes to Chromebook use. If you needed that Word document from Dropbox, you used to need to the Dropbox website and download it from the cloud onto your computer.
Now, finding that right document, spreadsheet, or image can be discovered right from the Files menu. One thing to keep in mind: The Files menu connects you to the Dropbox or OneDrive server via these add-ons, rather than storing your data locally, so the files aren’t all downloaded in their full size to your hard drive instantly. The limitation means you’ll need to have an online connection to add, edit, or access the files you access through these add-ons.
Chromebooks are usually pretty light when it comes to hard drive space, so while this may sound annoying, it’s part of the cloud-first philosophy of working in Chrome OS. If you need offline editing capabilities, you’ll need to either drag-and-drop the file into the Chrome OS downloads folder, or manually save a copy of the file in your Downloads.
Some final tips
I ran into a few hiccups with OneDrive, where the operation would time out when I tried to open or delete a file. If that happens you’ll see a push notification with an offer to abort the operation.
If you want to disconnect one of these services, just click the arrow next to its name in the Files menu to unmount it. This doesn’t remove the application from your Chromebook, however. So if you change your mind and decide to re-connect your Chromebook’s file menu to the cloud account again, just look for the application in the app drawer.
This new set of tools won’t replace what you can do in Windows, but it’s an excellent method for accessing what you need from the non-Googley cloud. For many, it could be the very wall that needs to fall in order to make a Chromebook worth it for getting work done.
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Derek Walter is a freelance technology writer based in Northern California. He is the author of Learning MIT App Inventor, a hands-on guide to building your own Android apps.