Tuesday, May 10, 2011

DraftSight 2D & Autodesk 123D... the new free market of CAD?

An interesting business dynamic is taking shape in the world of CAD these days, and it all is coming down to nothing, literally. Or shall we say, free!

Free CAD software is nothing new, however it typically is synonymous with low-end use and far removed from the major arenas of engineering or manufacturing reputability. That has changed in recent months. Earlier this year Dassault Systemes made available the general release of DraftSight, the free 2D CAD program intended to free the captive audience of Autodesk. Now Autodesk has announced they will soon be releasing Autodesk 123D, a free 3D CAD program that may be intended to break the bonds of loyalty evident in the world of 3D. Both business approaches seem to be built upon the age-old battle hardened precept of 'divide and conquer'!

Understandably, each developer is touting the capabilities and possibilities of what their respective software may accomplish. Also to be taken in stride is that those capabilities are somewhat limited due in part to the software being free. What isn't apparent just yet, is how this cost free aspect will shape the software decision making process for product development, say in three to five years. For the sake of this article, we will focus on how this changing landscape may affect a CAD business owner and entrepreneur.

As any SolidWorks CAD license holder can attest, the yearly expenditure for an annual license renewal is a cost that we simply anticipate and accept without much grumbling, since there is no room for negotiation. You either renew to the latest release thus minimizing your expenditure, or get left behind and place yourself in the position of paying the additional first time cost all over again when buying anew. For those with company departments where license fees are multiplied by the number of seats required, the cost burden is obvious! So as a CAD business owner, what if you could reduce your annual software expenses to zero and still more than adequately satisfy your client needs? Would you? Probably, if you could (1) quickly become adept with the new software interface, (2) ensure file compatibility with other major CAD platforms, and (3) manage your files effectively.

For any number of reasons, most CAD users can relate to their loyalty to a particular CAD platform, and that loyalty has been leveraged successfully for some time. So will we begin to see CAD software loyalty yield to the desires and sensibility of a free market approach? Will we see some measure of migration of CAD users crossing over the demarcation of SolidWorks / Autodesk simply because of the cost advantage that being free affords for either the 2D or 3D camps? Perhaps so, and it's not really too difficult to imagine. Especially so when taking into consideration that many small CAD business owners would jump at the opportunity to see their annual budget for CAD software drop from their ledger! Then again, loyalty might just keep many of us grounded until both ample evidence and simple economics prods us from our comfort zone.