Viewing DWF Files in Mac OS X


What is a DWF file and how can I view it in Mac OS? X?


Any version of Mac OS X (v10.4.8 or newer recommended) and FireFox (v2.0 or newer recommended)


AutoDESK (authors of AutoCAD) came up with the idea of DWF (Design Web Format) files as an easy way for folks to view and markup drawings without needing to own AutoCAD. Rather, users could use any of the free AutoDESK DWF viewers or those from third parties. While we won't get into the specifics of DWF here, please feel free to read AutoDESK's white paper on the subject XTNL URL

While AutoDESK announced support for a Mac OS X Native DWF viewer in 2003 (read the AutoDESK press release XTNL URL ), and despite heated debate in their own forums for quite some time (AutoCAD forum threads here XTNL URL and here XTNL URL ), the product is still vaporware. The threads linked earlier are an interesting read and while we take exception to many of the comments made regarding Mac's not being mainstream in the business world AutoDESK does provide some interesting spin which could hold water from a technical aspect as to why the promised viewer has yet to materialize (the jury is still out in our minds as to the validity of the claimed delays).

All our investigation into the subject thus far has yet to yield a Mac OS X DWF viewer application but if you find one please post a comment on this thread or drop us an email. However -- all is not lost for reading a DWF on the Mac -- read on Smile

What To Do

The internet and Javascript come to the rescue in allowing DWF files to be viewed in a browser window! While the solution isn't perfect, we tip our hats to the guys at AutoDESK Labs and anyone else who has put efforts towards Project Freewheel.

As of this writing, version 2.04 of Safari in Mac OS X 10.4.8 with the Java update of February 18, 2007 (Intel Mac's) will not work with the steps noted below. There is an error when clicking on the Folder icon described above and the url / file path cannot be uploaded to the server. Pity but at least FireFox is a free download XTNL URL Cool

To view a DWF file in Mac OS X, do this:

  1. Launch the FireFox web browser (version 2.Innocent (click here to get FireFox XTNL URL )
  2. Visit the Project Freewheel web page at
  3. Click on the Folder Icon and press Browse
  4. Navigate to the *.DWFClick to read AutoDESKs DWF White Paper">? on your local hard drive. Select the file and press Open
  5. Press Submit
  6. Result: The file is uploaded to the Project Freewheel webpage and is displayed in your browser window

Hint: You can use the Printer Icon in the Viewer Window to Print the DWF file to PDF? Cool . Saving/Printing the PDF file to your local hard drive will allow you to view the file offline. While the resolution of the PDF file isn't as good as the DWF (it's printing a preview image from the viewer window) it might be sufficient in some cases. The Viewer Window does allow panning and zooming so you can explore the DWF file in detail online.

Note: It's possible that the Project Freeware solution also works with other browsers in Mac OS X besides Firefox but we simply haven't had an opportunity to try them all. If you use a different browser and the solution works, please post a comment below with the browser name and version number along with what version of Mac OS X you're running. ~ Thanks in Advance.

Suffice it to say we're not big fans of DWF files for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the lack of a DWF viewer for Mac OS X. However, given DWF files are created by AutoCAD, we think that using DWG? is the logical approach since that's the native format used to generate the DWF content. In most cases, for consultant coordination, the DWG file is what's required anyway so going through the extra steps of saving as DWF just doesn't seem to make sense in the long run. Furthermore, while AutoDESK makes several arguments about how DWF is better than Adobe Acrobat PDF format (we're still evaluating that content but thus far we find it hard to swallow), we see little reason for not using PDF as it is a proven cross platform file format with viewers on all platforms. The PDF format also permits comments to be added to the files, which while less robust that DWF in some respects, still gets the job done. While PDF should be (and is on a Mac) as easy printing in most cases, many AutoCAD users have complained about having to pay the extra costs for Adobe Acrobat Pro (a small price to pay compared to the huge $'s for AutoCAD) and they note AutoDESK has crippled PDF output to a certain degree in products like Revit. The latter is an overt move by AutoDesk to push DWF as a PDF replacement but time will tell in how the two compete -- thus far PDF or DWG seems to be the file format of choice for most users (related link XTNL URL ).

While the online work around isn't perfect, at least it's glimmer of light in the dark tunnel that is viewing DWF in Mac OS X and we hope it helps.

If you found this article or the website in general to be helpful, educational or a time and money saver you can show your support. Thank you ~ Brian (huc) Huculak

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Autodesk's Freewheel server has been discontinued

as of Jan 31 2014

Sadly that means the link above has also been rendered obsolete and no longer works Sad

We're keeping this article live in case AutoDesk changes their minds

Sorry for the inconvenience


Yup, yet another new twist to things regarding DWF

This article at Outside the Box XTNL URL is an interesting read as is their related link here XTNL URL

While it appears that Vista 'might' read DWF'x' it still seems to be up in the air. Of course if AutoCAD supports Vista's system level XML? that might be a mixed blessing for those thinking AutoCAD might come to Mac OS? X (which also supports XML).

I'm still digging into the details and will post back here with anything interesting -- but I wanted to let folks know about that new twist so we can all start doing our homework.

McDwiff for Mac OS X

There is a Mac OS? X DWF Viewer called McDwiff XTNL URL that links to the Autodesk online DWF translator we noted above.

Currently the product only opens DWF files via a URL? so you'd have to upload the file to your own web site, then access the file remotely via the McDwiff XTNL URL application. Essentially it passes the translation request onto the Autodesk Translator but gives you a mac look and feel to the interface.

It's certainly worth checking out and is free for personal/educational/government work and $39 for commercial use.

DWF for internal use makes sense

I agree -- DWFClick to read AutoDESKs DWF White Paper">? is free and makes sense in that context and for an internal workflow as you describe Smile I had mentioned that there is a charge to go PDF? and that is a hurdle many AutoCAD shops note as being why they prefer DWF. There are times when DWF works and is a good tool in the right part of a process. However, DWF is not a cross platform, open standard, in any shape or form so relying on it for consultant coordination isn't a practical solution.

Want free: use DWG?. Want cheap PDF support: use Print to Postscript then one of the many cheaper Postscript to PDF conversion tools (here's one XTNL URL ). Need or want the whole ball of wax, purchase Adobe Acrobat Pro. The choices exist today to use the right tool for the job that are time and cost effective - for everyone on both sides of the coordination fence.

There is nothing stopping Microsoft or Autodesk from integrationg PDF at the system level just as Apple has done. Another free solution would then be available to their collective user base. However, historically, Microsoft and Autodesk have yet to embrace truly open standards. In the context of this thread, if the Design Web Format (DWF) really was AutoCAD's attempt at a 'web' format then why not support SVG (Scaleable Vector Graphics article by Adobe XTNL URL and SVG article and specs by the W3C XTNL URL ). SVG was already in development and is still making huge strides forward as a truly open vector based web format.

Autodesk sees/saw PDF as a threat the minute Adobe integrated a plug-in type approach to AutoCAD. Until then DWF was casually used. One can reasonably expect DWF to get even more attention by Autodesk to tighten their internal workflow. If it's used internally that's fine -- but AutoCAD is not an industry standard rather it's an instrument of practice (there was a US Supreme Court ruling about +10 years ago I need to find in my archives which confirmes that position). Therefore, presuming that everyone uses AutoCAD and therefore will have access to what can easily grown into a DWF workflow is false and seves no one other than Autodesk.

DWG works and it's free. PDF works and it's either pay Adobe or pay shareware guys or get Windows and Autodesk to license it like Apple did and then it too will be free. Want a free web based vector format, which is how DWF started out, go with SVG which a truly open standard.

Autodesk will continue to push the DWF workflow as it try's to put a stop to what is perceived as a threat by Adobe and the PDF Format. Why? Give the users what they need and want -- PDF works. Until then stick with DWG for coordination as it's ultimately what everyone needs to do their value added work.

Just a perspective on your

Just a perspective on your post...
"...the extra steps of saving as..." and "...little reason for not using PDF?...."

We do tend to make significate use of DWFClick to read AutoDESKs DWF White Paper">?'s (internally), becasue it is "easy" and there is one reason NOT to use PDF - most, though not all PDF writers cost $'s whereas the DWF output id 'free' - er... well.. included in the purchaqse price.

We here often use AutoCAD's publish commad to produce mulitpage DWF's - either from an AutoCAD drawing with many layouts and/or many separate dwg file and layouts. This results in a Set of Drawings, perhaps for an extensive project - that is webviewble, free to produce and the viewer is free. The effort is little different from plotting hardcopy of same - just to a different output device.

Mind you, these are used internall (intranet). For wide spread use "outside", then PDF would be more universally acceptable. Point is there is place and time where DWF can make sense - I mean if one is already an AutoCAD user to begin with (rightly of wrongly Smile

Jim "Oldguy" L

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