General-purpose file viewers for multiple file formats

There are trade-offs between using free file viewers and purchasing a commercial viewing application.

A dedicated (limited-format) file viewer is often offered by the format's publisher. Some considerations:

  • The ability to read the creating application's file format may be perfect, especially if the viewer relies on the original application's rendering engine.
  • File format changes may be more quickly incorporated into proprietary viewers, and an updated viewer is often released at nearly the same time as the updated application.
  • It's in the publisher's interest to encourage widespread use of a proprietary CAD/CAM file format, and therefore a dedicated file viewer is often free to acquire, with no on-going maintenance fees.
  • Managing many individual file viewers can be a problem in companies that use a large number of different CAD and CAM applications.

On the other hand, a general-purpose (multiple-format) file viewer is usually published by a third party. Points pro & con:

  • A general-purpose file viewer can be somewhat simpler to install, particularly if a wide variety of common file formats are needed and/or it must be deployed across many workstations.
  • Substantial reverse-engineering effort is often required to understand proprietary file formats, so general-purpose viewers are expensive to create and maintain. For example, Cimmetry's basic engineering viewer, AutoVue 2D Professional, is over US$700 per user; their full-featured AutoVue Electro-Mechanical Professional costs over US$3,600 per user.*
  • Viewer publishers have their own development and release cycles that may not coincide with CAD application file format changes. At least occasionally, there's a risk that your file viewer will be incompatible with your latest CAD files.
  • Most general-purpose file viewers support between 100 and 300 file formats. This can be very convenient, but there's a good chance you'll be paying for formats that you'll never use.

*NOTE: Although we haven't found Oracle's prices on their website, Cimmetry's on-line store showed the price as US$726 and $3654 a few years ago, with no apparent quantity discount.

Check the specs: Even after paying those license fees, there's no guarantee that a general-purpose viewer will support the specific file format you need. In fact, you may need two or more different viewers for your particular design environment. If you use a less popular CAD or CAM application, you'll probably use the application publisher's compatible viewer, or will need to save the CAD file in a more common viewer-compatible format.

Here's a selection of general-purpose file viewers which can read a broad variety of raster- and vector-based engineering and business formats:

Note: Allegria Software, Inc. may still offer ForReview but, last time we checked, their website (http://www.allegria.com) was no longer active.

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