It’s that time of year for predictions and forecasts. I'll take up the challenge, try my best to look into the crystal ball, and tell you what I see for CAD for the year ahead.
Internet will become even more pervasive for CAD systems and users. We will use the Internet more for everything related to CAD: buying software, requesting technical support, training ourselves, and accessing all sorts of services and online resources. CAD software will not move online like word-processors and spreadsheets started to do, but the first CAD related applications will be soon available online. Take a look at this experiment of online CAD visualization created by Autodesk Labs to get an idea of what to expect.
Wider gap between big and small users
The changes in the way CAD software is designed and sold will make even more evident the difference between large installations and small/medium installations. Traditional brick-and-mortar resellers will approach you only if they believe you have a potential of buying several licenses or very expensive services. If you are a freelance or a small company you will be better off if you buy software, training, and services on the Internet.
Less paper, better communication
For several years I watched new technologies and products showing up with the promise of paperless offices and easy collaboration. 2007 is the year when this will start to happen on a large scale. I believe that CAD visualization will become more and more important part of the design and manufacturing process. Autodesk DWF, Adobe Acrobat 3D, and Actify Spinfire are all candidates to take the lead.
Newer and better software documentation
2006 was the year when the printed documentation disappeared from the box of several CAD products (Rhino, Maya, BobCAD-CAM, etc.). Users don't need or want heavy printed manuals destined to become obsolete in a few months. But the current Help-files and PDF documentation is not yet as good as it can and should be. I hope to see a change during the next year toward more interactive, intelligent, integrated, and easy to use documentation. Look at SolidProfessor products for a view of what the future will look like.
More and stronger online user communities
The price competition and the reduced margin for resellers are killing free technical support. Unless you pay a subscription or pay a by-call fee, there is no more technical support. Left alone, CAD users will go online looking for tips, recommendations, support, help, or just to share their experiences. We will see new communities of CAD users grow and become more and more influential in the evolution of software and technologies. Robert McNeel recognized the importance of a strong user community a long time ago. The Rhino community (wiki, newsgroups, website, etc.) is a model that we will see replicated by other manufacturers and third parties.
If you have a different opinion or you would like to add a new item to this list please feel free to leave a comment. I would consider publishing a version 2.0 of this list.