I received a group of MXD, AHD, and XML files on a CD from a client.
What is the least expensive Esri software that would be needed to view the information contained in the MXD files?
I only need to view and print.
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To open an mxd, to the best of my knowledge, you will need a license of ArcGIS for Desktop to use its ArcMap application, which is by no means cheap. It seems that there are some tools out there to convert an ESRI document into a format that an open source solution like QGIS can read but it looks like they require access to an ArcGIS license as well.
I would ask the client to publish them to .pmf files so that you can use the freely available ArcReader software to open them up and view/print them.
If all you need to do is look at them and print the simplest solution would be for the client to send them as pdfs which are much easier to deal with.
I believe that you need a license of ArcGIS for Desktop to use its ArcMap application as well.
You can also ask the client to send the shape-file and open them in the open-source tool QGIS
If you only need this a short period of time, the trial will work for 90 days: http://www.esri.com/software/arcgis/arcgis-for-desktop/free-trial
If your purpose is non-commercial personal use or otherwise doesn't contravene the license terms, there is an ArcGIS for home use subscription program that costs $100/yr. It includes pretty much everything except ArcGIS Server.
If you know someone who has ArcGIS Engine SDK, you could ask them to simply build the sample app that is included with the install. The sample app is able to open and view mxd's. Before you can run that app, you will need to purchase and install the ArcGIS Engine runtime license, which last I checked retails for $500.
Once you have the runtime installed on your computer you will be able to run the sample app, along with other ArcGIS Engine apps without purchasing additional licensing.
Unfortunately Esri does not do a good job of promoting this licensing option.
This licensing model is a bit different from the new "runtimes", where each installed app requires a new license.
ArcGIS Pro, the new desktop application from Esri, supports the import of MXD files. It imports everything from mxd (layers, layouts,...) into ArcGIS pro project files. From there you won't need the mxd it self but the project files (aprx).
Refer to this page for more details.