New Chrome extension can open Office docs

Following in the footsteps of Chrome OS, Google brings the ability to directly open MS Office files to its latest browser beta with an extension.

Google Sheets made a hash out of a fairly unsophisticated Excel spreadsheet, overwriting words, dropping a graphic altogether, and generally looking ugly.
Google Sheets made a mess out of a fairly unsophisticated Excel spreadsheet, overwriting words, dropping a graphic altogether, and generally looking ugly. Google hopes that a new Chrome extension will help eliminate these problems. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Direct browser support for Microsoft Office documents is coming in fits and spurts to Chrome. Google's latest effort is a portly extension for Chrome beta.

If you're running Google Chrome Beta on Windows or Mac, you can now install the Chrome Office Viewer. It will allow you to open links to Office files directly in the browser, a feature that was first announced with the Chromebook Pixel.

However, you're limited right now to merely viewing the files. To edit, you'll have to upload the file to Google Drive, or open it in Microsoft Office or another compatible program. It's also worth noting that the extension is quite large, and at around 25 MB it's close to the same size as the browser installer itself.

Google engineer Jelte Liebrand wrote in the blog post announcing the extension that using it increases computer security by isolating the document in Chrome's sandbox. If it's malicious, it won't be able to spread the malware to your computer. The Chrome Office Viewer is compatible with Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations.

Google's quest to add comprehensive support for Office files to Chrome and Chrome OS has proved elusive, so far. The company purchased QuickOffice last year to provide more robust Office file support, but as my colleague Stephen Shankland reports, it's still painful to use them in Chrome nearly a year later. Chrome OS currently fares a bit better, he wrote, but is still not perfect. Chrome OS gained the ability to view Office files in May 2012.

If Google can successfully integrate Office file support in Chrome and Chrome OS, it would go a long way towards bolstering the company's argument that the browser-based operating system that powers Chromebooks and Chromeboxes are worthy competitors to computers running Windows, Mac, and Linux.

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