Why ArcView 3.x is Still in Use

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Despite the introduction of the ArcGIS platform at the 2000 ESRI International User Conference, some GIS shops either partially or exclusively still use ArcView 3.x as a means by which to do GIS.  The original ArcView was introduced in the early 1990s as a graphical interface to view geographic data.  ArcInfo, at the time, was a predominately command line driven application that was not user friendly, especially for the casual user of GIS.  ArcView, over time and through the add functionality of extensions, developed into a program that was capable of more complex spatial analysis and mapping.  The ease of use, the cheaper price, and (at least initially) the availability of the software on Windows instead of UNIX (as was the case until the mid-1990s for ArcInfo) made ArcView a popular choice for entry into the GIS world. 

Even though the last version of ArcView (3.3) was released over six years ago, (ArcView 3.x is now in mature support by ESRI with no retirement date released) ArcView 3.x (as it’s known to distinguish it from ArcGIS ArcView) still remains a popular program among some GIS users.  The continued use of ArcView 3.x can be distilled down into four reasons.

The first is cost.  With a lower entry cost of purchase and no annual maintenance fee, some shops prefer to stick with ArcView 3.  Diane Besser works with the Community Geography Project at Portland State University in Oregon and says, “Schools and non-profits cannot afford ArcGIS – often ArcView can be obtained at minimum to no cost – and, additionally, most do not have the technical infrastructure anyway to support ArcGIS.

The second reason is legacy.  Many GIS shops have been around for a while and still have legacy ArcView project (.apr) files containing customized Avenue scripting or labeling.  Mike Jenkins, a GIS Analyst with the City of Lakewood in California reports, “We still use ArcView 3.3 for legacy projects that we haven’t converted yet (typically ones with A LOT of hand-laid graphics/annotation).”  The need to convert extensive customization in ArcView 3.x to ArcGIS can be delayed due to a lack of time or resources.    Todd Zagurksi adds, “the wide complement of scripts developed over the years, 3.x offers the ability to perform (a narrowing gap of) tasks that have yet to be written/developed in 9.x.

The conversion to ArcMap often isn’t worth the effort to convert a map from ArcView that isn’t used very often.  Some GIS shops have literally hundreds or thousands of project files that may be accessed only once in a while.  Diana McCarthy, GIS Specialist with the City of Fullerton in California says, “We’ve got a lot of older maps that we don’t use very often.  Seems you lose a lot of graphics (text, etc.) when converting layouts, and since we don’t use the maps that often it just doesn’t seem worth the time to convert them to AG and then have to spruce them all up again so I just fire up AV when we need an ‘old’ map.

The third reason provided by ArcView 3.x users is functionality.  Some GIS users believe that ArcView 3.x can perform some GIS tasks better than its ArcGIS ArcView counterpart.  While Jenkins reports that his GIS group does about 95% of their work in ArcGIS, “the ability to select/sort/promote records makes it [ArcView 3.x] a better choice for many editing tasks.” Todd Zagurski from Los Angeles County’s Regional Planning also found that ArcView 3.x “is still a lot quicker than 9.x when performing these types of tasks especially on large data sets.” Jennie Gough with the City of Torrance also uses ArcView 3.x when she has shapefiles that won’t open in ArcGIS “since sometimes I can force them open in ArcView 3.x.

Nicholas Lindenberg, the manager of the GIS lab at the University of Cape Town in South Africa reports that his students find using ArcView 3.x much easier that ArcGIS, in part due to the smaller installation footprint and freedom from accessing a network license in order to run the software, but also in part due to the change in logic when performing similar tasks in ArcGIS versus ArcView 3.x:

ArcGIS lacks a lot of simple, daily-use  operations (like calculate ID’s, areas, add xy’s etc) off the main  menu system ArcGIS’s query and Visual Basic style calculation tools annoy non-programmers – e.g. to calculate an area in ArcGIS requires  VB precoding, in ArcView 3 it was [Shape].ReturnArea – easy enough to  remember ArcGIS tries to force the use of geodatabases and corporate  GIS approaches, which work poorly with ad-hoc GIS project work. The workflow changes that ESRI chose with ArcGIS are at odds with the  use to which most students and staff tend to put their GIS software –  small scale digitising, simple overlays and spatial joins, and basic  map/layout creation.

The fourth major reason is the “old dog, new tricks” rationale.  Anna Quinan, GIS Coordinator for the City of Hinesville in Georgia says, “I started my GIS career using ArcView and ArcInfo.  That was about 15 years ago.  I know ArcGIS can do all of the tasks I need but I know exactly what and where to go in ArcView and can do it faster than trying to find the same tool in ArcGIS.”  Edgardo David, Senior IT Analyst with the City of Santa Clarita echoes this sentiment stating, “Our GIS core group though now primarily uses ArcGIS, there are occasions however where we seek the simplier but functional Arcview 3x for quick data editing, table analysis and even mapping.  Familiarity in the application is also a factor why I myself still use the old, dependable Arcview 3x.

It seems as long as ArcView 3.x can work on Windows Operating systems (it is not supported on Vista), it will be a mainstay in many GIS shops.


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29 thoughts on “Why ArcView 3.x is Still in Use”

  1. I have a new in the box 3.X program with manuals and registration code. I am unable to sell it but they will allow me to give it back. Anyone have any ideas what I can do with it?

  2. I use Arcview everyday its fast, stable and out performs Arcgis for most of my work,
    wishsome one would write a book using python with arcview 3 and that would be great
    Arcgis looks as though the programmer put ithe GUI together with a Catapult


  3. They can have my ArcView 3.x when they pry it from my cold dead fingers! (ArcINFO too!)

    As far as I am concerned, ArcGIS was still beta up until v9.1. Yes, it worked, and it works much better now than it used too. But it still takes a lot longer to do tool/application developement work in ArcGIS than good ol’ ArcView 3.x or ArcINFO.

    The file based GDB is great, but it reminds me of something … I can’t think of what … wait … oh yeah – COVERAGES!

    Re: Running ArcView 3.x on Vista or 7 –

    ArcView 3.x is a 32-bit app and has no problem running on a 32-bit or 64-bit Windows OS. It *should* work on all versions of XP, Vista and 7. I say *should* because I have not actually tried it on all versions.

    The ArcView 3.x installer is a 16-bit app. 16-bit apps are supported on a 32-bit Windows OS, but not supported on a 64-bit Windows OS.

    If you are working with a 32-bit version of XP, Vista or 7, just run the ArcView 3.x installer. Afterwards be sure to also install the XP patch, even if you are installing on Vista or 7. Get the patch here:

    For a 64-bit Windows OS you have two options:
    1) Copy all of the files, and registry settings, manually; or
    2) Create your own 32-bit or 64-bit installer.

    There is a good thread on getting ArcView 3.x to work on a 64-bit Windows OS here:

    I chose the second option and created my own 32-bit installer using Microsoft Visual Studio. Here is what I did – NOTE: You can use these instructions for manually copying the files too. %windir% means the Windows directory, usually C:\WINDOWS\.

    1) Start with a clean install of a 32-bit Windows OS (I used XP Pro). I also installed MS Visual Studio.

    2) Create and save a listing of all files in the directory:

    3) Install ArcView 3.x and any extensions you want. For these instructions, I also installed Network Analyst and Database Access. Also add the extensions you want which do not have their own installer, such as Compiled Table Tools.

    4) Install the XP patch, even if you are installing on Vista or 7. Get the patch here:

    5) If you want ArcView to already be registered, launch ArcView and register it now.

    6) Find all of the files the installers have added. If you did not install the same extensions I installed, then some of these files I list below may not be installed, or additonal files may be installed. Just be methodical and careful when looking for which files were added.

    6a) Because you started with a clean OS install, with no other ESRI apps, you can just grab everything in:
    C:\Program Files\Common Files\ESRI\
    C:\WINDOWS\Crystal\ (only if you installed Crystal Reports)

    6b) Grab the ArcView 3.x fonts installed in %windir%\Fonts:

    6c) Also grab these files, if they were installed:
    C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\DAO\Dao2535.tlb
    C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\DAO\dao350.dll

    6d) There may also some files installed in the %windir%\system32\ directory. Use the list you created in step 2 (above) to find the new files which where installed with ArcView. NOTE: You may not need to install/copy all of these files. The rule I used for all files was only install a file if it does not already exist on the target system.

    7) Grab the registry settings the installers have added.

    Grab everything in:

    And also grab these keys:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\App Paths\ArcView.exe
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Classes\ArcView Project\shell\open\command

    8) Copy the files and registry settings to the target machine.

    8a) Copy the files in these direcotries to the same directory on the target machine:
    C:\WINDOWS\Crystal\ (only if you installed Crystal Reports)

    8b) For these directories, copy the files:
    from C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\DAO\
    to C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\DAO\.

    from %windir%\system32\
    to %windir%\SysWOW64\

    8c) Register these files, if they were copied, using “%windir%\syswow64\regsvr32”. For example:

    C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\ESRI\Mo20.ocx
    C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\ESRI\Shape20.dll

    If you installed extensions which I did not install, there may be other files which need to be registered. Try the extension and if it does not work, look for DLL or OCX files that are specific to that extension and register the files.

    8d) You cannot just copy font files to the fonts folder on the target machine. Instead, on XP, navigate to the Fonts directory on the target machine and from the file browser “File” menu choose “Install New Font…”. There should be a similar method in Vista and 7.

    8e) To manually copy a registry key, find the key in Regedit. Right-click on the key and select Export to save the keys/values to a text file. Then, copy the file to the target machine and right-click on the file and select Merge.

    IMPORTANT: You have to edit this registry key before Merging it on the target machine. Edit the file you Exported in any text editor.

    change HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\App Paths\ArcView.exe
    to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\App Paths\ArcView.exe

    Good luck!


  4. AVPython allows the Python language to be embedded in ArcView and the integration is bidirectional.

    Is it possible to purchase legal copies of ArcView 3x? I would like to have a box to play with.

  5. If anyone can post somewhat more detailed instructions as to how to install Arcview 3.2 on Windows7, that would be very helpful.
    Thanks in advance!

  6. Is there a means by which one may legally acquire a copy of ArcView 3.x? ESRI is obviously not interested in marketing it anymore.

  7. I feel you Theo,
    Let me just say that i’ve been using AV3.x for as long as it was released and
    i’m still using it today for a Critical Operation involving distribution, I’m using it
    with the Network Analyst extension and have never ever had a bad experience
    with the program.
    What ESRI did by going with Microsoft was a mistake from my point of view ,
    because by doing so, they lost control over the developing aspect of the application.
    I’m using Avenue and will use it until my dying day baby….
    I’ve tried VB but somehow it just doesn’t work for me.
    Who knows maybe in the future i’ll have to change, but for the moment, let me
    work with my reliable AV3 and Avenue.
    Saludos a todos desde Panama.

  8. Well, let me also say that ArcView 3.x was lacking the ability to work with Geographic Coordinate Systems as it’s counterpart, ArcGIS 8.x or 9.x.

    But this was until a few months ago, when an ArcView user launched, on ArcScripts, an Extension named “KML 2 SHP Converter…” which shows how Avenue scripting can still do great things!

    Try this extension at http://arcscripts.esri.com/details.asp?dbid=14988

  9. One of our IT guys got it to run on 7 by copying a full install from a running version on XP. He had to copy “one file,” but I have not been able to find out that file. However I did copy my full install (entire ESRI folder) from a running version on Win2000. When I tried it on Vista I got an error about a missing “mtch.dll.” It wasn’t in the ESRI folder but it was in C:\Program Files\Common Files\ESRI. I copied into the ESRI folder (Bin32 folder within the ArcView folder within the AV_GIS30 folder within ESRI folder) on a thumb drive and now I can run ArcView3.3 off the thumb drive on most any computer (XP or Vista) I’ve tried it with. I can’t wait to see if it works on 7 but my guess is it will, since the IT guy made it happen…. Also I haven’t gone far enough to make sure all the fonts look pretty, etc. But it opens without a squawk.

    • Right click on setup.exe
      Go to Compatibility tab
      Check ‘Run this program in compatibility mode for’ Windows XP Service pack 3
      Now run the setup.exe

  10. ArcGIS Arcview works well for many things, but ArcView will always remain the perfect fall-back. It does so many things quicker/better. AND I’m running it on Windows 7.

  11. Is it possible to purchase a 3.1 or 3.2 arcview license, including 3D Analyst and Spatial Analyst. Possibly used. I now work with other software (Autocad icw SADA), but think arcview 3.x is still the best for cut / fill calculations and labeling analysis in soil and groundwater samples. I don’t need the new functions of av9x

    Who can help me tot get a legally (second hand) licence

  12. Whats the point of moving scripts to ArcGIS 9 and VBA when it will be obsolete in a year. I’m still trying to figure out and easy way to get avenue scripts into something that will be around for a while.

  13. Does anyone know how/where to go to purchase ArcView 3.x? I can’t find a place online to (legally) obtain it.


  14. ArcGIS has come a long way since 8x. From 8x to 9.1, I had to go back to ArcView GIS to do things that I either couldn’t do, or couldn’t figure out how to script in. Now, at 9.31, I rarely crack open 3.3. However, it is still true that 3x will rip through large data sets MUCH faster than ArcGIS, whether summarizing, dissolving, spatial joining, etc…3x will do in an a fraction of the time.

  15. Reason I still like to use ArcView 3.3 is after using it for 18 years, I know what it can do and where to find the tools without searching and relearning everytime I need to do something. I use it to create data or refine the data for the speed. I usually use ArcGIS for map creation and analysis.

  16. Reason 6: Labelling, when all you wanted to do is point and click a few select labels, was fantastic in 3.X. Without buying Maplex, ArcGIS leaves much to be desired on the labelling end of things.

  17. ArcView 3.x just works. It does 95% of what I need in a GIS and it does it well. The other 5% I can achieve using Avenue. I am an independent consultant and can’t justify the expense of moving to ArcGIS when it does not do things that I require any better than ArcView 3.x. Admittedly the Geodatabase is a better data model than the shapefile, but even that limitation can be overcome in ArcView 3.x with a little thought.

  18. The “old dog, new tricks” rationale doesn’t even apply according to some college interns that have worked for me. I was amazed one day when one of them walked in and said, “Boy I’m glad to be here.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because here I get to work on ArcView3 and it is so much easier than ArcGIS9. At school we have to learn on ArcGIS9 and ArcGIS9 sucks!”

  19. Pewgo – try morphing some projects into 9.3. You’ll be amazed how quickly you get used to 1 layout = 1 .mxd. It’s really nice to be able to update a map without having to turn on/off a bunch of layers, and the drag and drop feature makes it very easy to move layers between projects or between ArcCatalog and projects. Everything from scripts to labelling to area calculations is easier in 9.3. I found it had a fairly steep learning curve, and I was very slow at first, as I learned new ways of doing things (even though I had been using ArcView for a decade), but now I look back and am sorry I took so long to upgrade. There are so many things I can do in 9.x that I simply couldn’t do in 3.x, or that took me much longer in 3.x. I can put out professional quality maps in a short time without exporting to Illustrator or spending days on one map. ArcCatalog enables me to preview shapefiles easily and quickly. ArcGIS 9.x is a wonderful tool, and once you get used to it you’re going to wonder how you ever worked without it.

  20. We used ArcView 3.x for years after they came out with the new ArcGIS. One reason was that 8.x didn’t have as much functionality and I simply wasn’t impressed by it. 9.0 solved most of the issues and we gradually started morphing over, but we had a lot of 3.x projects that needed to be upgraded, and many shapefiles that needed to be projected or updated. We made the change gradually and now rarely use 3.x (generally to look at old projects). About a year ago I started automatically updating old 3.x projects even if we rarely use them. I have not found anything that can be done in 3.x that I can’t do in 9.2, but some of the features we are using are only in the ArcInfo/ArcEditor versions, which are quite a bit more expensive. Labelling in Mapplex is so much easier than 3.x that I think it’s shortsighted to remain in ArcView because of that.

  21. oooh i do miss those “Segmentation Violations” it used to throw at me.

    Ive still got 3.2 and use it over 9.2 mainly for Geoprocessing with large datasets. 9.x has all sorts of known memory leaks which cause it to fall over.

  22. While I could agree with the general concept of reason number 3 up there, the second example provided is rather poor. The “simple, daily-use operations” that Mr. Lindenberg say do not exist in ArcGIS, do indeed exist, and are quite accessible. Pretty much everything complained about (add xy, calculate areas, etc) have been in ArcGIS since v9.1/9.2. So while his observations might have been valid several years ago for v8.x, they aren’t limitations with the current software.

  23. The UI in Arcgis is put together with a catapult :-) and is unfriendly and none intuitive in some of its menus

    AV3.3 is fast too setup and can do a huge amount of analysis work

    Av3.3 multiple views and layouts

    AV 3.3 Avenue can now be tagged to the python language, so the possibilities are endless

    Arcgis is very powerful but is unfriendly and that is why I still use Av3.3 for nearly all of my work

  24. Don’t forget the surprisingly powerful Avenue scripting language… I must smilingly admit that I keep an install of ArcView for this very reason as I am not a huge fan of the bloated Visual Basic.

  25. One thing I miss are views. I heard at a conference that ArcGIS 9.3 brings that back….I hope so!

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