View and edit Microsoft Office file attachments received in Gmail

View and edit Microsoft Office attachments in Gmail (yes, even on a Chromebook).

One day, you'll receive a Microsoft Office file attachment in your Gmail inbox. As a Gmail or Google Apps user, you should have no problem opening and editing most Office files. Files with complex formatting may present a challenge, although no more of a challenge than exchanging Office files between different versions of Office.


Office attachments display below email in Gmail.

Edit with Google Apps

Google has made it easier than ever to open and edit Excel files: move your cursor over the attachment and select the pencil icon. The file will open for editing in Google Sheets. That's right: you convert and open the file with one click. (Note the pencil icon in the image above.)

You need three steps to open and edit Word or PowerPoint attachments:

1. Click anywhere in the attachment to open it, other than the "Download" or "Save to Drive" buttons. The attachment displays in preview mode.

2. Click the blue "Open With" button (in the lower right corner of the screen) to display options.

3. Choose "Google Docs" or "Google Slides" to open the Word or PowerPoint file, respectively. The file will convert and open for editing in Google Apps.

I expect we'll see the one-click to edit Word and PowerPoint attachments in the near future.


Easily open and edit Office attachments received in Gmail with Google Apps.

Mobile Gmail users should install the free QuickOffice app to edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on Android or iOS devices. To open an attached Office document on Android, tap the name of the attached file, then choose to open the file with QuickOffice. The process takes more steps for iPhone and iPad users: you'll need to tap the name of the attached file, then tap the arrow (in the lower right corner) and choose "Open in Safari", then tap "Open in Quickoffice".

Edit with Office Web Apps

Desktop users might prefer to use Microsoft's Office Web Apps to view or modify Office attachments received in Gmail. The Office Web App team has done a nice job building Office Web Apps. Office Web Apps work well in any current browser.

Microsoft's SkyDrive and Office Web Apps allow you to upload and edit a Word, Excel or PowerPoint attachment received in Gmail.

1. Move your cursor over the attachment, then click the "Download" icon (the down arrow) to save the document locally.


Download the file locally.

2. Go to Skydrive to access Microsoft's Web Apps. You'll need to login with a Microsoft account.


Login to with a Microsoft account.

3. Select "Upload", then choose the document saved earlier. The document will appear the in the SkyDrive list. Select it to view it.


Upload your saved Office file to SkyDrive.

4. Choose "Edit Presentation" > "Edit Presentation in Web App" to open the document for editing online.

Choose to edit the presentation in the Office Web App.


Share the file online or download your document.

When you're finished, you can share the file online or download your document in a standard Microsoft Office format file.

Limitations... and a note for Chromebook Users

Neither Google Apps nor Microsoft's own Web Apps support all the features of the installed version of Office. As a result, you may encounter formatting or font substitution issues when working with complex documents. I expect both solutions will improve over time.

Chromebook users should note that either of the above methods works well for editing Office files on a Chromebook. However, Office Web Apps requires an Internet connection, while Google Docs, Slides and Sheets all support offline editing. So, unless you plan to remain connected to the internet all the time, Google Apps may be the better app for editing Office files on a Chromebook.


Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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