Salesforce.com encourages SaaS imitators

Potential rival using AppExchange doesn't bother SaaS vendor

Salesforce.com has positioned the latest version of its on-demand software, which includes its Apex platform, as providing the necessary tools for other companies to emulate its success in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) market.

Salesforce officially went live with the Salesforce Winter 07 release of its hosted customer relationship management (CRM) software earlier this month. Its own developers use the Apex environment and the Apex Code programming language to create the company’s SaaS products.

“This is probably our boldest step yet in the transition to becoming a platform company,” says Kendall Collins, senior vice president of product marketing at Salesforce. “We’ve done all the heavy lifting so that developers can focus on innovation and not infrastructure.”

Such a move potentially means a third party using Salesforce’s resources could create hosted CRM applications superior to Salesforce’s, but Collins and Bruce Francis, vice president of corporate strategy at Salesforce.com, don’t see that possibility as a threat — to them, it’s more of an opportunity to widen their user base since such a rival CRM offering would be based on Apex.

Already, they point out, Salesforce.com’s one-year-old AppExchange website features CRM technologies from third parties that out-perform the email marketing and analytics it supplies.

“Our vision is to see millions of applications on AppExchange,” Francis says. The site currently features more than 500 applications, up from the 100 or so when it launched in January 2006. Salesforce plans to more fully commercialise AppExchange as a complete online software marketplace later this year.

Collins and Francis have singled out two vendors who have already built products they consider could be “killer” hosted applications in their respective vertical fields. Bluewolf Group provides a customised version of Salesforce for the entertainment industry with its MediaTrak SaaS, while Okere offers a tailored version of the CRM software for capital-market customers.

Salesforce also made its Apex Code programming language available to developers in a preview version. The company plans to run a beta program for customers later this year, followed by general availability before the end of 2007. The Java-like language enables third-party developers to write code to create multitenant hosted applications that can run directly on Salesforce’s servers.

Salesforce has no plans to open-source Apex Code, but might examine that option as it receives feedback from developers on the preview release.

“Our goal is ubiquity,” Francis says. “We’ll listen to all great ideas.”

The vendor also announced new Apex developer toolkits for Ajax and Eclipse along with a new wiki-based developer site known as the Apex Developer Network (ADN) to foster a community around the Salesforce.com language.

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