Future of CAD and Cloud Computing

Now that we are all beta testing SolidWorks 2009, I can't help but think about how much CAD applications have transformed over the past 15 years and what path the future will take. With the launch of cloud-based applications like Google Apps, Photoshop Express, and Windows Live Mesh, it is hard to ignore this movement of web-based computing. Many of us have watched products like SolidWorks grow up into very powerful applications but still we are locked to using CAD on a desktop machine. In many cases this is sufficient and probably the first choice, however this was the same belief we had about word-processing and spreadsheet applications just a few years ago. Today these type of applications are ubiquitous and can be found up in the cloud.

With the introduction of platforms like Microsoft Silverlight and Adobe Flash, applications for the web are now popping up all over the place, even in arenas that are dominated by the desktop. There are arguments that cloud-based application are limited not only in features but also in access, since many of us are not always connected to the Internet. There are some technologies that allow web-based applications to work while offline, like Google Gears. Gears allows some applicatoins like Google Reader and Google Docs to work while disconnected from the Internet, utilizing Java in the background to power the web page's technologies.

There are a few different configurations of how cloud-computing can be done with respect to the interfaces in which the user interacts with the application. Some web-applications are solely accessed through a web browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox, while others can communicate with the cloud through a desktop application, allowing collaboration and/or sync features. I have recently started using a great application called Evernote, that is a note taking application that exists both on the web and on the desktop. Evernote can be accessed solely via the web using a web browser but also has a native desktop interface, running on either Windows or Mac, giving offline access to my notes. In this case, the cloud not only brings storage and sync capabilities, but also brings OCR (Optical Character Recognition) for pictures and hand written notes. I can take a photo of my hand written notes or a picture containing text and it will recognize it for search. This powerful feature doesn't happen on my desktop application but once my notes are synced, Evernote's server does the OCR for me and the results are synced back to my system. This flexibility allows me to be mobile and give me all the power everywhere I need it.

So back to the CAD application, what if SolidWorks started small and developed a cloud-based eDrawings? This could be an extension of some of the SoildWorks Labs projects like BluePrint Now, Drawings Now, and COSMOSXpress Now giving not only a web-based interface but extend features like storage and collaboration as well. Currently both BluePrint Now and DrawingsNow share an online storage space which gives some cloud benefits since they can be accessed from anywhere. This could also be coupled with a connection from the installed desktop application, allowing simplicity of access within the current working environment. Learning from what eDrawings could bring, SolidWorks itself could be extended to the cloud to do minor adjustments and collaboration across the Internet.

These are obviously my own "dreams" but if anyone can make a CAD application utilize the Internet and bring it to the mainstream, SolidWorks can. Don't forget that SoilidWorks tried this back in February 2002 with a collaboration/project management website called 3D TeamWorks that allowed for some of this functionality. That was before many of these advanced technologies existed and also before most people were comfortable with using the web as a serious platform for computing. As these technologies begin to break many of our everyday applications free from the desktop or extend the current capabilities back to a powerful server in the cloud, the glass ceiling of innovation is broken and the "Clouds the limit"! ~Lou