it's going to depend on the type of document.
I agree with Chris… it can vary very widely depending on the type of document… basically, what you need is a way to parse the document on the server and display it in the page as HTML… HTML being one of the very few things you can push across the internet and expect someone to receive… there are converters for a lot of different document types, you could possibly conceivably generate an image of the document somehow, etc… but it will all hinge on what kind of document it is.
my experience with handling document assets on the web, be they word
docs, pdfs, spreadsheets, whatever, is that you should rely on the
browser and OS to handle the display. No matter how you look at it,
the file data has to be 'downloaded', whether it's displayed in the
page as html or via a plugin or opened in Word. all you should worry
about is setting the correct headers then sending the data.
ex: i click a link to a Word document, Open Office opens to display
the document. I click on a pdf document and the Acrobat plugin
displays the document within the browser.
Your browser should handle a link to a pdf if you have the plugin or
reader installed. Worse case is your browser will open a dialog and
ask if you want to save or open with whatever your default viewer is
I believe that with the Acrobat plugin, it will open the document
directly in the browser.
one thing i've done in the past is have an iframe setup for displaying
documents using the acrobat plugin. you can then target that iframe
from the link and the acrobat plugin should open within the targeted
iframe and display your document.