Google has released an add-on that lets users view Microsoft Office documents within its Chrome browser, another small step in the search giant's encroachment on Microsoft's lucrative business productivity turf.
Two months ago, Google hinted at Thursday's debut of Chrome Office Viewer when it confirmed it had baked technology from its 2102 Quickoffice acquisition into Chrome OS, the browser-based operating system that powers Chromebook computers.
Chrome Office Viewer, which is tagged with a beta label, allows viewing -- but not editing -- of Excel, PowerPoint and Word documents. To try it, users must be running the Windows or OS X versions of Chrome 27, which is also in beta.
Office files in the three formats can be opened within Chrome by clicking on a website link or on a document previously uploaded to a cloud-based storage service, such as Dropbox.
Although the lack of editing features makes the in-browser add-on of little immediate value, Google has promised to add editing to Chrome OS. It may follow with similar functionality in the Chrome browser add-on.
When Google announced the availability of Chrome Office Viewer yesterday, it said nothing about a timeline for document creation or editing.
Quickoffice is already available in app form for the iPhone, iPad and Android-powered smartphones and tablets. Those apps are free to Google Apps for Business subscribers, and cost $15 to $20 for others.
The Chrome Office Viewer beta is free from the Chrome Web Store, but it's possible Google will charge for the polished version if, as expected, it lets users create and edit Microsoft Office documents.
Google Apps -- and the associated Quickoffice push -- compete with Microsoft's free Office Web Apps, scaled-down online editions of the locally-installed Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word applications bundled as Office 2013.
Microsoft has been steadily adding features to Office Web Apps and plans to integrate it with Yammer, the social media-like workplace collaboration service Redmond bought for $1.2 billion last July.
Office Web Apps is a core component of Office 365, the subscription plans Microsoft expanded earlier this year. Business subscribers can run the apps on-premises via a SharePoint Server or from the SharePoint Online service; consumers, even those without an Office 365 account, can call up Office Web Apps free of charge via SkyDrive to create, edit and view documents.
Microsoft supports multiple browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari.