Friday tip: how to open Visio files without Visio

By: John McGarvey

Date: 21 June 2013

{{}}Every once in a while someone will send you an attachment you can't open on your computer, usually because you don't have the right software.

This often happens with Microsoft Visio files. Used to create diagrams and flowcharts, Visio is a complex piece of software that most people have no need for on a day-to-day basis.

At £279 for the Standard version of Visio, it's too expensive if you only need to open Visio files occasionally. But if you don't have a copy, what do you do when someone sends you a file in Visio format?

Here are two options:

1. Use the Visio viewer

This is the straightforward method, if all you don't need to make any changes to the Visio file.

Just download Microsoft's free Visio Viewer software, and run it to install the viewer on your computer.

This free software will let you open and view Visio files without Visio. However, you won't be able to make any changes.

2. Use other software to edit Visio files

It's traditionally been tricky for software developers to decode Visio files, which is why it's hard to open Visio files without Visio.

However, in recent years a couple of packages have added Visio support. They don't always work 100% (especially if your files contain complicated diagrams) but they're worth a go:

  • LibreOffice is a free alternative to Microsoft Office. It includes a package called Draw, which can open and save Visio files.
  • LucidChart claims to be 'only online diagramming application that offers Microsoft Visio import and export.' You can try it free.

Failing that, ask the person who sent you the file to use their copy of Visio to save it in a different format. Visio can export to PDF files, which are ideal if you just need to review a diagram.