One reason for the current level of relative application complexity is the segmented, proprietary CAD market and the gated communities which form around a particular application. As we saw with SolidWorks some time ago, a productivity enhancing user interface combined with competitive pricing can breach insular walls and drive “volume” migration/adoption. The consequence of course being that competitors are forced to respond in kind.
However, as some people have already observed, there’s not much money in 3D software and the old business model for selling CAD applications is on life support. Why invest significant time and energy toward dramatically improving a product if there is no clear business solution to recoup that investment? Without a catalyst for change – which is what SolidWorks was at the time – there’s little incentive.
As a consequence, we’re currently seeing what I’d characterize as a plateau in CAD application development; a (dis)comfort zone of sorts. But an increasingly competitive global market and the pressure it brings to bear on software providers, as well as the ongoing shift in the entire digital marketplace, will almost certainly spur important new developments (some of which are already
almost certainly gestating).
With that in mind, in general today’s CAD applications have several issues which are presently of particular interest to me and, I believe, relevant to any “next generation” discussion. They are:
Whoever truly solves the data portability problem for parametric feature-based history1 models will gain some marketshare (and there’s been some movement on this front, from what I’ve read; though I’m not sure I trust the reports so I’m asking some current users). Whoever frees up licensing and opens up their format will gain both marketshare and mindshare.2 But whoever provides these things in a feature-competitive, parametric 3D CAD application which utilizes a standardized open source, freely-available format enabling users to embed meaning into their 3D data, will change the world.3
Note 1: By my own admission, I’m largely ignoring the trend toward “direct modeling”; parametric feature-based history is arguably a worst case.
Note 2: Parametric data portability improvements assumed.
Note 3: Until a major CAD vendor both adopts and promotes XML or X3D as their standard CAD format, it’s of little practical use to me. However, the OpenNURBS format might be a possible candidate based on some comments I’ve read.