The number of seats sold by vendors is as contentious a debate as Mac vs PC. Problems with seat figures include:
- Licenses donated to educational institutes for free, and hence possibly unused. For instance, Siemens PLM Systems regularly donates tens of millions of dollars worth of their CAD software to universities.
- Licenses sold as educational site licenses, and so the number in-use is indeterminable. A single DVD is installed (legally) by tens or scores or hundreds of students.
- Licenses bundled with additional CAD software, which means some software can sit unused.
- Licenses purchased long ago and perhaps no longer in-use.
- I've heard of commercial licenses being given away to seed a company or region. Should these count?
A year or two ago, the younger Autodesk Inventor surpassed the older DS SolidWorks SolidWorks in total seats, but now SolidWorks has triumphed by sprinting ahead to be the first to reach psychologically-important one million seats; the most recent number from Autodesk's FactSheet is 869,000 (as of Jan 31, 2009).
The press release from SolidWorks gives no details on how #2 lept ahead to #1. My guess: lots of seats donated to education. I've been analyzing Autodesk's detailed figures over the last five years, and noted that education seats increase in quarters when commercial seats drop. These adjustments helps smooth the total number.
We shouldn't expect a reaction from Autodesk, for ceo Carl Bass has declared seat numbers unimportant. Applying the sales rate of the last four quarters, however, I estimate it would take Inventor 1-2 years to reach one million.
With this announcement, SolidWorks wins a battle of perception.