Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff on Thursday attempted to cement an image of the vendor as a full-blown application development platform provider, not merely a purveyor of SaaS (software-as-a-service) applications.
The colorful CEO pulled a familiar arrow from his rhetorical quiver during a keynote address at the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, decrying the annual software maintenance fees vendors like Oracle charge, and imploring customers of those companies to align themselves with Salesforce.com and its Force.com development platform.
"They think it's their purpose in life to collect those taxes on software development [technologies] that were developed a decade ago," he bellowed. "When are you going to ask for innovation instead of paying maintenance?"
But according to Salesforce.com, many already have. More than 135,000 custom applications have been built with Force.com and more than 200,000 programmers now belong to the company's developer network, the company said.
Salesforce.com claims its system, available by subscription starting at US$25 per user per month, allows companies to develop applications much more quickly and less expensively than with traditional development stacks.
Part of the reason for this is that developers do not need to test their applications against multiple combinations of databases, application servers and other components. Also, since companies are using Salesforce.com's own cloud infrastructure, there is no need to invest in hardware.
But Force.com development also presents a trade-off, since it could difficult to port an application built there elsewhere.
Still, Salesforce.com is beginning to attract ample interest from some of the industry's largest software vendors.
CA on Thursday announced plans to release CA Agile Planner, a Force.com-built system for managing agile software development projects. Agile development lets teams create many incremental iterations of an application, allowing for continual feedback from end-users and managers along the way.
BMC executives also took the stage to showcase the company's own Force.com project, a service-desk application that will be released in 2010.
The keynote also showcased how Force.com is being used by businesses as well as ISVs.
Benioff introduced officials from a variety of companies, including countertop maker Vetrazzo and the Japanese convenience-store chain Lawson. Both companies described how they built ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications on Force.com.
Force.com may indeed be a more convenient method of developing applications, especially if a company isn't dealing with a wealth of legacy systems, said Michael Coté, an analyst with Redmonk.
"Just having a Web site to log into, that's a better way of getting IT in general," he said.
However, "not everyone is lucky enough that they can start from a clean slate," he added.
IT shops will have plenty of cloud development platforms to choose from in the months and years ahead, including Microsoft's Azure, Coté said.
Therefore, the best approach may be to initially experiment with small projects, especially because doing so will help companies determine "how this new way of delivering software affects the business," he said.