With release of the Apex development language and Salesforce Platform Edition over the past year, Salesforce.com has been gradually repositioning itself to becoming a platform as well as a CRM SaaS (Software as a Service) provider. At the company’s annual DreamForce conference, it is adding yet another piece to the platform pie: it will let you develop on its platform without the familiar Salesforce UI.
The new offering, called Force.com, provides a model-view-controller (MVC) framework that you can populate with your own look and feel. This lets customers or partners build any kind of user experience with our on-demand delivery without a touch of our branding, explained Adam Gross, vice president of developer marketing.
For now it will support deployment over a standard rich desktop or browser. It will rely on partners such as Adobe to develop frameworks that could render on mobile devices like PDAs or smart handsets.
This is hardly earth shattering. Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff has always had more than CRM in mind when the company introduced its No Software branding way back with its founding. CRM just happened to be the moneymaker that helped them build market presence and war chest to become a more broad-based platform.
So this is the latest step in an evolution that began with Sforce, which let you develop SOA-based integrations with Salesforce CRM, followed by AppExchange, where you could simply consume partner apps without using Salesforce CRM, to the past year’s unleashing of Apex, which is the externalized version of Salesforce’s own development environment.
But if Salesforce is to call itself a platform company, it has to step up to the plate to make Force.com fully portable from conventional desktops and laptops to mobile devices. We’re not clear exactly what their strategy is, but we have the impression that Salesforce wants to stick to its knitting with its on demand back end and, views UI as peripheral to its mission.
Given the loud fanfare to last April’s announcement of the Flex Toolkit for Apex, it’s clear that Adobe is aiming to fill the vacuum to try becoming the de facto standard rich Internet platform for the Salesforce platform. In the wake of that announcement, we asked Gross on whether Salesforce would build a similar bridge to Microsoft’s Windows Presentation Foundation, he demurred and said that developers would be welcome to try. In all likelihood some niche player will.
But we still expect that going forward, Adobe will be first among equals on the Apex platform and Force.com for one key reason: both companies share a keen rivalry with Microsoft.