Chrome OS 101: How to save and retrieve files

A few years ago, I was shopping for a Chromebook for a business trip. I wanted something light enough to wear all day and affordable enough that I didn’t mind spilling coffee on the keyboard as much. I was considering two different models when a sales rep reached out to see if I needed any help. “You do know,” he said, “that these are Chromebooks, right? They only work online; cannot save any files to the hard drive”. Of course, this wasn’t the first time he’d caught a sales rep making a mistake. But this is a bug that seems to have persisted. Yes, Chromebooks were created to be used primarily online. In fact, when the first Chrome OS laptops were introduced in 2011, there were very few apps that could be used offline, which was a huge flaw. But that was then, and this is now. Currently, apps like Google Docs and Sheets (which are the basic apps for Chrome OS) can be used both online and offline. Additionally, you can save files locally to the laptop’s SSD or, with some models, to an SD memory card. Whether you just bought your first Chromebook or are considering one, here are the basics on how to get your files back on your Chromebook and find them again.

save your files

Saving a file on a Chromebook is a lot like saving a file on macOS or Windows. You can save a file in one of two ways: press Ctrl + S, or right-click on the image or file you want to save and select “Save As…”. Either way, the Files app (the equivalent of Mac Finder or Windows File Explorer) will appear. Select which folder you want to save your file to from the list on the left, and then click the Save button in the lower right corner. (If you want to rename the file, you can do so in the field to the left of the Save button.) You can also save and retrieve Google Drive files from here.

The Files app comes preloaded with a Downloads folder, but you can easily create your own folders by clicking the New Folder button in the bottom left corner.

Find your files

To find your saved files, here’s what you need to do: Click the Launcher button in the lower left corner of the screen. An application window will appear at the bottom of the screen. If you used the Files app recently, it will appear just below the search field with other recently used apps. Click on it. Otherwise, click the “up” arrow just above the search field to see all the apps on your Chromebook and click the Files app.

The Files app also automatically organizes your files into Recent, Audio, Pictures, and Videos folders to make those types of files easier to find.

Keep in mind that while you can save a reasonable number of files, most Chromebooks come with a relatively small amount of storage. Most offer anywhere from 64GB to 256GB, though there are still some lower-cost machines with 32GB and some premium systems with 512GB. It won’t have the same capacity as it would on a typical Mac or Windows system, but since most Chromebook users tend to store their content in the cloud rather than on their local systems, this shouldn’t be a big deal.Update June 7, 2022, 3:53 pm ET: This article was originally published on September 27, 2019 and has been updated to account for an increase in the amount of storage included in most Chromebooks.


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