The question mark in the title was necessary because I’m not proposing an answer but trying to start a brainstorming session.
I guess the question makes some assumptions that you have to be on board with before you try to answer it. First, it assumes that Dassault Systemes has done serious damage to SolidWorks as a company, as a product, and as a brand. And second, I think you have to assume that the situation can be repaired. It is becoming more fashionable among the real CAD press to acknowledge that SolidWorks and Dassault are engaged in some sort of internal struggle, and that Dassault has at least mis-communicated, maybe even miscalculated.
There are a couple of ways that Dassault might deal with the situation.
Controversy? What Controversy?
This is the typical corporate head-in-the-sand technique they must teach as a staple in MBA programs. If you don’t listen to criticism, then it doesn’t exist. This would essentially mean that they keep doing what they are doing. Lying to themselves and their customers. Hoping no one reads the signs like that CEO whose firing we disguised as a promotion, all the Europeans running the company, the lack of development of real CAD tools, all this talk of Catia, the fact that we got caught on tape saying “We’re dropping Parasolid”, and the injection of all this unrelated nonsense. Changes? What changes? Change is good. Not that we’re changing, cuz we’re not…
And then get some hapless social media puppet who doesn’t understand the topic to be your main mouthpiece. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
Full Steam Ahead
If Dassault is going to continue to move forward with replacing SolidWorks as the Dassault mid-range offering with Catia-based software, and try to avoid a customer revolt, I think the only course for them is to come clean, and say that’s what they’re trying to do. Right now, people like me are able to characterize the change as a bad thing. DS is not explicitly denying that they are looking to supplant SolidWorks with something else, or that it would be a bad thing if they did exactly that. So they just turn out looking like they are being underhanded. They have made a lot of half-hearted attempts at addressing the situation that still leave open the possibility, nay, the probability that yes, they are really trying to replace SolidWorks with Catia-based software.
Of course talking about detailed specifics is not really possible at this point, because they don’t have anything to show. Plus, it’s just not the way that Dassault seems to do things. If nothing else, Dassault has learned a hard lesson about talking about stuff that isn’t anywhere close to reality.
Plus, if they want to go “full steam ahead”, it’s going to mean that they’ve got to deal with the reality that they are dead last in the race to offer a tool that starts to move away from history-based modeling as the sole paradigm. In the “market your weakness” method, this will mean they sell their idea as the most evolved, not as the first with technology, which was the original selling point.
No matter how this winds up, I think the message from Dassault is going to be that “other people”, details left unstated, have been trying to confuse mid-range customers. Using this tactic, Dassault could effectively reverse course on the whole Killing SolidWorks deal without making it seem like they’ve changed their mind even a little. I’m not sure they could do this and save any face at all. They might hang on to revenue for a few extra years, but I think SolidWorks is at the top of its bell curve – it’s all down hill from here.
Killing off SolidWorks was a brilliant thing to do, provided they don’t say it like that to the customer base that loved the product, and possibly provided that they wait a few more years to announce it. With the benefit of even more hindsight there are SO many things about Jeff “Death” Ray’s announcement that should have been recognized up front. By all accounts, there were disagreements about whether Ray should go ahead with that presentation. It couldn’t have been a last minute decision, based on the preparation it would take to demo that software remotely.
Even if they could reverse course, they would be left with a Parasolid Kernel, and without the whole insane V6 vision. This method would require too much crow being eaten in Paris to be feasible.
There is a way of thinking where there is really no way to resolve the inner conflict between the Boston Blueblood loyalists and the Gallic usurpers. France has made their profits from the $360 million investment, and now SolidWorks is becoming more of a distraction from the insane V6 vision of immersive 3D Experience for everyone everywhere. While this would be the best of all possible outcomes from my point of view, if this were going to happen, and be a good thing, it would have happened already. Jon Hirschtick has already left the building. He would have been the obvious choice to revive the brand, and what it means. But the fact is that he has chosen to part ways, and to start something new, which could be good news in the end, but alas, not for SolidWorks. I don’t see another spiritual successor to SolidWorks or Hirschtick on the horizon.
Just Let it Die
Strange as it may seem, this might be the current tactic. SolidWorks is based on the idea that Microsoft is king, which it clearly isn’t any more. It is truly time for it to die. How long will professional computing continue to depend on Microsoft? Especially after the decidedly consumer bent of Windows 8?
If you just let SolidWorks die, then you have to be prepared to do something else. One option would be to do the V6 thing, the current plan.
People see that the desktop is no longer king. While this is true for casual consumer computing, which becomes less and less powerful all the time, it is NOT true for professional computing, which constantly needs more and more power. Too many people in the CAD industry get caught up in the success of a guy like Steve Jobs, and come to the conclusion that all success stems from controlling the consumer. Business/Professional needs are different from consumer needs. You can’t just treat them interchangeably. I think more than anything else, we are at a crossroads where professional and casual computing must once again diverge. Laptops can handle most professional computing needs, but tablets can’t.
Moving back to centralized servers for CAD is not the answer. This is where following the consumer rabbit hole will take professional computers. Compute power is cheap to own. As consumers abandon the desktop, though, it is going to get more expensive. But so will centralized servers. So I don’t think cloud servers are going to gain much of a real edge over local power for professional computing. I just don’t see it. A couple of niche areas maybe.
The real king these days is Linux, and not the cloud at all. Linux runs on the desktop and servers. You might argue about iOS or Android, but the truth is that these are all related to Linux. It might be most feasible to write next gen platforms for Linux, and then offer virtualization modules for flavors. This avoids the whole cloud issue without dismissing it, and it allows for local installation.Everywhere we’re headed is some Linux variant. Is platform independence really that big of a deal?
Emotionally, it would be most satisfying to see Hirschtick buy back SolidWorks and restore it to its former glory, but I know that isn’t going to happen, and even if it did, the reality wouldn’t be as good as my imagination.
I really think Dassault is going to first employ the Controversy? What Controversy? method, and then follow through with the Just Let It Die with the V6 option. This combination is the Mechanical Desktop option.
What do you think?