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Google ports Office-substitute app to Chrome OS, Chrome browser

QuickOffice in the browser another weapon in Google's campaign against Microsoft Office, say analysts

February 26, 2013 03:11 PM ET

Computerworld - Google confirmed today that it has ported part of QuickOffice, a popular iOS and Android app substitute for Microsoft Office, to a technology baked into Chrome OS and the company's Chrome browser.

The search giant acquired QuickOffice in mid-2012 and rolled the iOS and Android apps -- and QuickOffice's development team -- into its Google Apps group. As an app for the iPhone, iPad and Android-powered smartphones and tablets, QuickOffice lets customers view, create and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.

Techcrunch was the first to report that Google was bundling QuickOffice viewers with the $1,300 Chromebook Pixel notebook, and that editing functionality would be added to the Chrome OS-powered laptop in the next two to three months.

To do that, Google ported QuickOffice to "Native Client," a technology that lets developers turn applications written in C and C++ -- originally intended to run in, say, Windows -- into ones that execute entirely within a browser, specifically Google's own Chrome. Google claims that Native Client code runs almost as fast inside the browser as the original did outside.

Chrome OS, of course, is built atop Chrome the browser; both support Native Client. The latter has featured Native Client support since Chrome 14, which launched in September 2011.

Although Google has debuted a partial native client edition of QuickOffice on Chrome OS and plans to wrap up the port on that platform, there are no technical barriers that prevent the finished application from also running within the Chrome browser on Windows, OS X and Linux.

Google declined to comment on whether or when it will offer QuickOffice for Chrome.

Analysts saw the porting of QuickOffice to Chrome OS -- and the potential for bringing the application to Chrome on other platforms -- in the context of the ongoing war between Google and Microsoft over the lucrative business productivity market.

"I presume that they're delivering QuickOffice on the Pixel, and would through the browser, because it's a superior solution to what they can deliver through Google Apps," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, citing factors including offline access and faster response from the locally installed QuickOffice. "But QuickOffice also adds to Google Apps' appeal."

As a mobile app, QuickOffice costs $15 for Android and iOS smartphones, and $20 for the tablet editions. Google Apps for Business subscribers, however, have had access to a free iPad version since last December.

"The question is, 'How good of an Office experience can Google provide?'" said Al Hilwa of IDC. "If QuickOffice in Chrome does approximate [Microsoft] Office, then that's a challenge for Microsoft, a serious one."

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