There are several serious problems with this simplistic view of AutoCAD's future. First, although the most obvious differences between the desktop vendors and the turnkey vendors are technological, the most significant differences have very little to do with technical content. The most important differences have to do with basic philosophical issues.
AutoCAD is undeniably the most popular CAD product in the world. We all know the impressive numbers: several hundred thousand licensed users, and many times that in illegal copies make AutoCAD the practical standard in desktop CAD everywhere CAD is done.
How has Autodesk managed to be so successful? We can all count the ways, but when we do, we find that providing superior technology is not one of them. In retrospect, Autodesk succeeds because it is a superior business.
Dedication to the customer and serving their needs has turned out to be more important than providing leading-edge technology. That attitude of presenting a strong, almost fanatical dedication to the user is apparent in everything we do, and is recognized by the user who rewarded us in spades.
The ``bulking up'' of AutoCAD may not guarantee us any greater success than we now have. it may, in fact, achieve exactly the opposite, especially if high-end features are arbitrarily added to the system without regard to the benefits which they bring. It is clear that much of the current customer base of AutoCAD has little need for many of the advanced features which we are contemplating adding to future versions of AutoCAD.
As we add NURBS-based solids modelers, constraint management systems, and other ``sophisticated'' features, we should ask ourselves what our users, who have purchased AutoCAD for years to do their drafting/drawing work, will do with these fancy features, Will these users see each additional release of the product promising them only unneeded features and increasing complexity? If the added value is not perceived to be great enough, the simplest decision users can make is to buy a system which better serves their needs.
The potential effect on our business would not be confined solely to those users which were left behind in our ``dust'' as we climb the technology curve. By orienting our marketing to the customer base which does have a need for these features, we will be forced to position ourselves in a market with which we have a small collective experience, and where our ability to succeed is untested. Can we risk the abandonment of a large number of loyal customers who have helped us to achieve our current enviable position of market domination and financial success?
I do not believe that one product can span the range from desktop CAD through high-end CAD, and that for AutoCAD to continue its world-beating success path, it must continue to provide solutions which are consistent with our current users' requirements and with our own experience. I feel strongly that adding technology which will not contribute to making AutoCAD a better and better drafting and drawing system would be a serious, perhaps fatal, mistake. This must continue to be the most important goal of the company.
Editor: John Walker