The AFP format – short for Advanced Function Presentation (Printing) – was developed by IBM in 1984 for High speed, high volume, production digital printing, from mainframes. This print stream architecture is a “presentation” format, designed to be out put on a variety of devices. The initial implementation was to a laser printer on paper, thus it became known as a print data stream. As PC’s high quality graphic display became available, IBM developed PC software to out put the AFP data stream to PC display, and the AFP Viewer was born. The first program from IBM was quite costly, and only ran on OS/2, so viewing was limited. As other venders developed viewers and made free or demo copies available, the AFP viewer has become more popular. In this article you’ll find a short overview of free (and trial versions) AFP Viewers I’ve found and used.
There are two types of AFP Viewers the Stand-a-lone, a full program that has many features, and functions in similar ways to the controller in an AFP printer. The other is a plug-in viewer that “plugs-in to your browser, such as IE or Mozllia Firefox. This type has fewer features and acts as an interpreter of the AFP data.
There are a number of free AFP viewers; I have provided a list here and a Google of “AFP viewers”, will provide the current URLs for each.
Free (or Trial) AFP Viewers:
Ricoh / IBM – InfoPrint Solutions Company; AFP Viewer Plug-in, (Freeware) (browser plug-in)
Ricoh / IBM – InfoPrint Solutions Company; AFP Workbench for Windows Viewer, (Freeware)
BTB; AFPviewer, (free version, but put water-mark on viewed page)
Jesse Yeager; “AFPviewer”, (Freeware)
Compart; DocBridge Viewer, (1yr license free)
Barr Systems; BARR/AFP viewer, (30 day trial only)
ISI Papyrus; ISISAFPViewer, (Free) (browser plug-in),
MailProof; AFP Viewer / Proofer, (30 day trial only)
All of the AFP viewers take the AFP data stream in and interpret this data to pixels for display on your monitor. Normally this data is converted to the “dots” that would be printed by the printer on paper. Each viewer wile visually displays the information, will differ in the “view based on the way the “viewers” program was written. This differentiates the AFP viewers, as some display closer to the printed out put than others. And not all viewers can display all of the AFP objects, thus boxes or incorrect characters may be shown for the data that viewer can not interpret.
The plug-in viewer is dependent on the browser for many of its functions as is any browser plug-in. But these offer less overhead and only a browser “plug-in” installation. The stand-a-lone viewer requires a full Windows installation and takes up a certain amount of disk space. There is an exception with Jesse AFPviewer this is a single program, no DLL and no installation needed. This viewer is ideal for ruining from a thumb-drive and very portable.
The “free” trial viewers expire in 30 days, limiting their use, and with any trial they want you to purchase the full version, so this software borders on free. The other viewers are true “freeware” and work indefinitely. Exception here with the DocBridge viewer, you need to contact Compart and ask for a new 1 year free license (bit inconvenient).
I have found in using these free AFP viewers, no two of the viewers displays exactly the same page image. This is caused by how the author of the viewer program implemented the AFP architecture in their program. Thus processing the AFP data each in a slightly different way, but correct by the architecture specifications. This is also true of the AFP printers as each of the manufactures implement the AFP architecture with different programming algorithms. So you may want to use several of them to get a view of the data, as one viewer may show an object another viewer may not or in a slightly different way. And they are free so the cost is null.
Many of these viewers not only display AFP data but also will view PDF files, Tiff images, PCX format, and resource components of the AFP data stream. DocBridge Viewer offering the broadest selection of file formats that can be viewed. The IBM Workbench viewer and Jesse AFP Viewer view several file formats, PDF, Tiff and several other graphic formats. The other free AFP viewers do AFP format.
In conclusion, if you have a need to see an AFP file, downloading one or more of these free viewers, provides a valued tool in you work on AFP data. The only other way to “view” an AFP file is to print it and this many times in a production environment is costly and time consuming. The other option is to convert the AFP data to a desk top printer format; such as PostScript or PDF and in many cases the original data format is altered in the conversion process and the fonts may be changed. The best solution is to view the AFP data in its original file form with an AFP viewer.