Takes Wraps Off

Larry Barrett

Updated · Sep 18, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO— CEO Marc Benioff kicked off the Dreamforce 2007 conference Monday by unveiling the particulars of, the on-demand application development platform the company believes will forever change the way companies develop, design and access business software applications.

During his presentation to most of the 7,000 attendees expected at the fifth iteration of his company's annual meet-and-greet, Benioff threw down the gauntlet to competitors Microsoft , Oracle  and SAP , predicting his company's multi-tenant, on-demand software service will become “the foundation of the future of our industry.”

“The more time we spend with our platform, the more it feels like a startup again,” Benioff said. “Our platform is creating a new model.”, built on the company's proprietary Visualforce technology, will give customers, developers and independent software vendors (ISV) the ability to create custom applications and user interfaces that can be accessed from desktop PCs, iPhones or retail kiosks using the  service.

By tapping into the logic and workflow intelligence of its Apex code, Visualforce lets users design interfaces that can be tailored to the look and feel of their brands rather than displaying their applications in the standard format and design.

Visualforce uses HTML, AJAX and Flex programming languages to give any customer with an Internet connection the ability to create and share their custom applications throughout their organizations.

During his keynote address, Benioff reiterated his company's goal of eclipsing $1 billion in sales this year and crowed that now has more than 35,000 customers and 900,000 individual subscribers.

“We can serve companies of all sizes,” he said. “That's the power of the multi-tenancy model. That's what we're focused on. And we've worked hard to give you more and more value.”

The platform-as-a-service offering, which Benioff said will be available sometime in mid- to late-2008, will give customers the ability to run multiple applications within in the same instance with identical security settings, data models and user interfaces.

Perhaps more intriguing is the editing feature that allows users to customize the interfaces to their specifications, eliminating the look-and-feel of traditional applications.

Parker Harris, co-founder and executive vice president of technology, showed off this new feature during Benioff's address, making minor changes in the underlying user interface code before clicking on a Page Editor button that removed's trademark tabs from the top of the page.

Benioff said this feature will surely be popular with companies eager to trim a lot of the clutter surrounding the user interface, particularly for those managing their sales staff through iPhones and other mobile devises.

But at least one analyst thinks could have done even more.

“I think they only went halfway,” said Henry Peyret, an analyst at Forrester Research who attended Benioff's keynote address. “They don't provide a mashup server/editor that some startups are already providing. The big deal is to put the capability to make user-interface changes in the hands of the real business users. This is what Benioff promised but it's not fully here yet.”

Attendees will be given ample opportunity to judge for themselves throughout the remainder of the three-day conference and provide feedback ahead of a larger developer preview has scheduled for later this year.

They're also getting a glimpse of Salesforce Winter '08, the 24th edition of the company's on-demand business software service. Winter '08 includes two new applications—Salesforce Content and Salesforce Ideas—that were developed in response to customer feedback and suggestions. This version also includes inline editing, the top customer request, which allows users to edit in real-time without having to click on the edit button every time before making a change.

Winter '08 will be available in the fourth quarter. The Salesforce Content and Ideas applications will be available in limited release initially and then fully available in early 2008.

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