I am a GIS analyst working for regional govt. I quite often have to create quite complicated interactive maps for non-gis users who need them for presentations. These non-GIS users then need to have ArcGIS experience in order to just disaplay layers. This often leads to confusion when for example the contents window has been switched off my mistake, and other little problems due to not having enough experience with the software.

My question is...Does anyone know of any viewers which can basically display arcgis MXD documents but do not contain all the tools. I basically just need to display the layer groups/layers and keep their symbology, be able to switch the layers on and off, and possibly do a few other things like search for attributes, alter opacity. But the last two points are not really too important.

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    If you don't have high resolution rasters and too many transparencies you could use the export to PDF and keep the layers. Commented May 8, 2012 at 15:10

6 Answers 6


ArcReader may meet your needs. It has all the basic map navigation tools plus some basic features, e.g. Find, Identify, follow hyperlinks (if present), and spatial bookmarks.

Note, however, that ArcReader doesn't use MXDs. Instead it relies on PMFs, which are created with the ArcGIS Publisher plugin. That plugin costs $2500 for a single use license, or may be included with an enterprise license (if you have one).

  • I definitely second this if you can afford the license. This lets you define all the parameters of symbology, scale dependency and included layers, then roll them out to as many users as necessary. It has all the user interface of ArcGIS, but is limited to the viewing and basic data query functions. Commented May 8, 2012 at 15:37
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    Additional note: ArcPublisher/Reader is similar in concept to Adobe Acrobat Publisher/Reader marriage. You can create unlimited numbers of PMF projects, even with a single use (paid) license, that are readable by an unlimited number of free ArcReader installations. The only reason you would need more than 1 publisher license is if you 1) cant use a license manager or 2) need more than 1 person creating PMF's at a time, which is rare I have found. Commented May 8, 2012 at 15:37
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    for 2500 I can buy another arcview licence! When is esri going to open their lyr and mxd formats to the public? Commented May 8, 2012 at 15:43
  • @RobertBuckley, to be blunt, they will probably do this when they choose to no longer be a private, profitable software company, or, never. If they thought it would make them more money by making it an open format, they might consider it, but really, what would it accomplish? Commented May 8, 2012 at 15:48
  • I´m not too sure about that. The usability of ESRI Software is probably the best thing about it. People who are employed to use (rather than develop) ESRI Products haven´t got time to search for OpenSource alternatives, and the level of support and documentation is equal to none. SHP is an open format, Geodatabase is open, why not mxds? It would improve compatibility and even create more software nishes to incorporate ESRI Software into other GIS products. Commented May 8, 2012 at 16:04

The ArcEngine developer kit comes with a sample application template that does a lot of what you describe. Using the developer kit, I did this: File>New Project>Visual C#>Extending Arcobjects>Mapcontrol Application. I then built a debug version of the app, zipped up the exe and the pdb file and put it here.

I did not change any code.

If you have ArcGIS 10.0 installed, I think you should be able to run it. Choose File>Open and browse for an mxd. Let me know if it works.

  • Thanks, but no, it´s not working! What does ArcEngine cost? Commented May 8, 2012 at 16:31
  • @RobertBuckley Did you try running it on a machine that has ArcGIS 10 desktop installed? If not, then you'll need to purchase ArcEngine runtime ($500 last I checked). The nice thing about Engine is that subsequent engine apps can be deployed to the machine at no additional licensing cost. There is a new product ArcGIS runtime for WPF which is similar, but licensed on a per application basis. I haven't seen pricing for those licenses. See the FAQ. Commented May 8, 2012 at 16:36
  • Yeah..it has arcgis 10 installed. I don´t know if I have time to start developing with arcEngine as well. I have enough to do with my current desktop environment plus developing with openlayers/GeoExt running a linux server with Tomcat/geoserver/gwc and then there are all the portals which need to be maintained. I don´t think I can afford the time. Do you fancy building me a little app which displays mxds without any tools?...just zooming panning and layers on and off? I´m sure we can come to a financial agreement: Commented May 8, 2012 at 16:40
  • But if I understand correctly, I need ArcGIS Engine licence to build the app, and then ArcGIS runtime licence to run on each machine....so I´m still going to be a few thousand out of pocket and I can´t distribute what i´ve built! Commented May 8, 2012 at 16:44
  • @RobertBuckley You should run be able to run this exe on a machine that is already licensed for Desktop. Normally I build an msi package - I've never tried this. Assuming you got it to run, you shouldn't need to purchase the SDK or do any programming unless you wanted to enhance it (like alter opacity). I'm a bit busy right now, but I bet there's an ArcEngine Developer out there (maybe iterationx ) who might have time. Commented May 8, 2012 at 16:59

if you make your mxd files to serving it as rest service, you can present them in "View In:" ArcGIS JavaScript api...


in ArcGIS Services Directory you can see:

ESRI_StreetMap_World_2D (MapServer) and when you enter into this, you can see

View In: ArcMap ArcGIS Explorer ArcGIS JavaScript Google Earth ArcGIS.com Map

and you can reach it from here basically...

or if your users have ArcGIS Explorer, they can also see services in ArcGIS Explorer...


Another Solution is that you can check Esri Partner - CarryMap:

CarryMap is a unique solution for reproducing your ArcGIS maps as self-sufficient distributable electronic map applications for desktop computers, Windows mobile and Apple iOS devices.

With CarryMap you get the professional production tool for making spatially enabled guides, exploration plans, field work maps, recreation and attraction plans for navigation and information support purposes. All that you can easily supply to any non GIS user having neither specific GIS software nor professional GIS skills and experience.

CarryMap Features:

  • Output map applications can be used on any Windows computers, Windows

mobile or Apple iOS devices*

  • Solution preserves the original map layers properties and look

  • Output map application combines viewer and data in one compact file - send it, use

it in your presentations, put up at your websitefor download

  • Output spatial data is compressed

  • Maps can be protected with password and/or time limits to guarantee your data

integrity and security

Output map applications functionality

User friendly and seamless interface
Add/Import/Export pushpins
Map rotation
GPS support
Hyperlinks support in the identify dialog
Advanced search capabilities
Go to XY coordinates
Smart scaling
Distance measurement



i hope it helps you...

  • ArcGIS Explorer can be a great option for free, but does not offer a simple user experience. Your mileage may vary, depending on how much training you want to offer your users.
    – user3461
    Commented May 8, 2012 at 15:18
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    then try ArcGIS JavaScript Api, it is so easy making a service with ArcGIS JavaScript...
    – urcm
    Commented May 8, 2012 at 15:21
  • Agreed about the JS API. Was just offering potential concerns for anyone who reads this (same as I did re: ArcGIS Publisher).
    – user3461
    Commented May 8, 2012 at 15:29
  • I find the arcgis javascript api answer interesting. But I´m assuming one needs ArcServer to serve the mxd, right? I already serve data with an opensource stack so arcserver is out of the question financially. I´m looking for a desktop viewer which can just render mxds really but does not offer any settings or tools. Thanks for your answers Commented May 8, 2012 at 15:36
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    I have tested carry map already. There is a problem with symbology rendering. The application cannot create projects which have png marker symbols!!!! Really irritating otherwise I would have liked to use this! Commented May 8, 2012 at 15:53

A very simple option that is internet accessible would be to use ArcGIS.com to create a web map. Load either zipped shapefiles or map services, save your map, create the web app., and share it to one of your groups or to the public. Here is a simple web map that I created using zipped shapefile data.



You can also try exporting the maps to geopdf. User can open up these pdfs in Adobe reader, a software that most people have.


My simple answer is .... pdf for what you list. Most of the other listed answers are excellent but all require some user skillset in GIS.

These are quite basic functions you require and I think GeoPDF covers most of them.

In ArcMAP when you export to PDF you can export attributes and layers (see options when exporting) that can be turned on or off. You can even do grids and coordinates. Geo PDFs will allow zoom, pan, selection, attributes, layers turning on and off I I think labels.


and all you need is the latest Adobe Reader installed.

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