Let's take Google for example. They launch a browser that is limited at first but very fast and grows it into a huge player in the browser market. On the success of the Chrome desktop browser Google announces a new operating system called ChromeOS, which builds on the speed aspect of it's desktop counterpart and positioned as a fast, secure and state-less system that complements your computing needs. That is the part that some seem to miss, complement. Google is not trying to get you to ditch your desktop in hopes to only use ChromeOS. I believe they understand there are situations where you will still need the desktop and through sync they can move your settings from ChromeOS to the desktop's Chrome browser and vice versa. This provides a cheap, lightweight, portable solution to access your data from anywhere you have a connection. Now this is not to say that 5 years from now when connection speeds are 5 times what they are today and connectivity is ubiquitous that people won't ditch their attachment to desktop applications, although less likely for the masses. This type of shift will probably be more a generational position as opposed to technological limitation.
Now think about what SolidWorks announced last year at SolidWorks World 2010. That was a peek of what everyone has collectively nicknamed "SolidWorks V6" which showed a CAD application delivered via the Internet (SaaS). After first glance the consensus was that this was going to be replacing SolidWorks as we knew it, ditching the locally installed desktop application. In response, the following week in a blog post, SolidWorks outlined the technology that was previewed and ensured customers that the desktop version of SolidWorks was here to stay for the long haul and there was now two solutions for customers to choose from.
Personally I think "SolidWorks V6" could follow a roadmap similar to the one Google is taking with ChromeOS. Let's say that SWV6 ships and is offered as a complementary product to the desktop version at first, allowing the early adopters to take hold and see where they need to draw the line for usage. SolidWorks on the desktop can continue to be the place were a majority of time is spent but when collaboration or mobile design is necessary, data could be then accessible from SWV6 for those operations. This would obviously require the files to be bi-directional or use the same file format so data translation is not an issue for this symbiotic relationship. As releases go by, features are added to both systems, growing their capability as technology allows and elevating SWV6 to a product that could replace the desktop version of SolidWorks as we know it today. Jeff Ray had said that "If anyone is going to kill SolidWorks, we should be the ones to do it!"
There are a number of options/features/speculations to how the two platforms could work together for the near term and as connection speeds, performance technology and cloud-based user adoption increases, a decision could be made to pick one platform over another. Personally this is how I use Microsoft Office and Google Docs. They both work with each other but I do about 95% of my office documents on Google now and only a very few situations require me to use the desktop versions of Microsoft Office today. The benefits of having my data centrally located, easily sharable and have the ability to collaborate or publish my content has made the hosted solution a more attraction option for my use case.
Since there seems to still be so many unknowns to all the questions that users will have to the hosted offering, one thing is certain, SolidWorks is not going to throw one platform out to replace it with another. However, maybe there will come a day when the desktop version is no longer as appealing to the masses and no longer worth supporting but I believe that will also be generational. I am anxious to hear more details outlining "SolidWorks V6" at this year's SolidWorks World 2011. ~Lou