Is CAD software following the same path of web browsers? According to some small-size 2D CAD vendors (as reported by Ralph Grabowski) there are too many free CAD systems and too long lasting free trials around. As a CAD reseller I should agree, and maybe I should say: free software is not good! But I don't see free CAD as a lost opportunity for a new sale, but as a changing market. I believe we are observing at least three different trends.
lower prices means lower margins for resellers and therefore less resources
The price of CAD systems has been going down in the last few years, and where the price remains the same, the product comes with more features and modules. That's happening to all software, not just to CAD. Lower prices means lower margins for resellers and therefore less resources for demoing the software to potential customers, pre-sale training users, and promoting the software. CAD manufacturers are trying to deal with this situation by gradually transforming their product trial versions into a sort of sales tool. The trials are getting better, lasting longer and include more marketing features. We are going to see more of this in the future.
(Autodesk) is using the profits from 2D to build a 3D success
All the companies focused on 3D as their core business are realizing their success will come only by converting the existing huge 2D installed base to 3D. They also know that the 2D world is mostly controlled by Autodesk. Because the San Rafael company is using the profits from 2D to build a 3D success, the only way to compete with Autodesk is the commoditization of 2D CAD systems. Only if and when 2D CAD becomes free or brands-insensitive, UGS, PTC, Dassault. etc., will be able to compete with Autodesk for the 3D market on a more even level. Those companies are not making any profit out of 2D systems, therefore why not give away 2D for free and by doing so try draining the fat revenues Autodesk is collecting from its 2D users base?
(Autodesk) knows the transition from 2D to 3D is inevitable
At the same time, Autodesk is trying hard to move its user base from AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT to Inventor. They know the transition from 2D to 3D is inevitable, it's just a matter of time. And they know this can the best opportunity for their competitor to still their customers. Inventor is a good product, but in the 3D CAD arena it is just one of many, no better and no worse. In San Rafael they know it very well, and therefore they have an aggressive marketing strategy (see the recent report from New Orleans by Roopinder Tara and Rachael Dalton post) and they try everything, including giving away the product almost for free, to entice their 2D users to switch to their 3D systems.
What's your opinion?