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Industry reacts to Benioff's "most important announcement"

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19th Oct 2006
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Salesforce.com's announcement of its Apex programming language has certainly created a stir with rival vendors firing off criticisms but analysts offering cautious optimism.

"This is the most important announcement Salesforce.com has ever made," said CEO and Chairman Marc Benioff. "With Apex, developers from our ISVs and customers will be able to write code that runs natively on our infrastructure, providing them with the same capability as our own Salesforce.com developers."

Apex is planned as a Java-like development language. Anything built using it can be made available as a Web service and is accessible via SOAP (simple object access protocol) and XML (extensible markup language) standards. The Apex platform will provide capabilities for embedded mashups, analytics, mobility, workflow and approvals, and deliver intelligence with a new API (application program interface). Apex components and applications can be shared via Salesforce.com's AppExchange directory.

SAP - whose commitment to the SaaS model is decidedly half-hearted - seemed to get most hot under the corporate collar about this. "Salesforce is still a one-trick pony and I don't think the industry is looking for one-trick; they're looking for a partner," said Peter Graf, executive vice president for solution marketing at SAP.

"Even assuming no one has any bad intentions, a developer can bring down a system. Do I want to be dependent on a developer from another organisation? The single-biggest concern to people running multi-tenancy anyway is that you can still run into outages caused by other customers.

"We think this is a big security risk. If you launch a programming language and say you can modify coding that can be used in multi-tenant architecture, you open the door for not only customers changing the code, but everyone running on the same instance."

Greg Gianforte, CEO of RightNow Technologies, commented: "Today companies need to focus on technology that helps ensure their customers experiences consistently exceed expectations This is the way to drive true competitive differentiation, earn customer loyalty and increase sales. These are not accomplished by investing in yet another pgoramming language or platform."

Technology industry commentator Nicholas Carr said: "It's been clear, at least since the announcement of its AppExchange software marketplace a year ago, that Salesforce's ambitions go well beyond providing a simple customer relationship management system. With Apex, those ambitions come into clear focus: Salesforce doesn't want to be your CRM supplier; it wants to be your data centre. It wants to underpin and run all your enterprise applications, while giving you the tools to customise them. Its original slogan "Success, Not Software" appears to be morphing into a new one: "Innovation, Not Infrastructure."

It could perhaps be argued that Apex is a further move away from Salesforce.com's roots in CRM, but this is disputed by Yankee Group. "This just about knocks out whatever competitive advantage the premise-based application offers," reckoned Sheryl Kingstone, director enterprise applications and mobility strategies with the Boston-based Yankee Group. "They're not taking their eye off of CRM. That's where their bread and butter is. Their user base might pull them in that direction. You get more users without having to build a model like Oracle and SAP. They can't compete with those systems. No one company can provide everything."

Apex may also differentiate and more clearly define AppExchange. "The challenge facing IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Google, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, salesforce.com, and everyone else that wants to grow their business is making money for other people. Doing that is the charm," argued James Governor of Redmonk. "AppExchange really needs to be a market, not a platform. What matters most is creating opportunities for folks to make money.

"With that in mind a tenanted model creates significant opportunities. Traditionally with software development the developer has no idea who actually uses their code. Its one of the issues that has stymied reuse - why should I let someone piggyback on my, or my organisations, work, if they haven't paid me? Well, if salesforce.com can track who actually uses what then we could see some new economics in the industry, which could see star developers start to take home Premier League salaries."

By Stuart Lauchlan
[email protected]

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