A Force In the Cloud Maybe, but Still Proprietary
Answering his own musing, Benioff paraphrased The New York Times, Business Week and industry analyst group IDC in saying that the next major shift is the cloud, as in cloud computing. "We see that happening," said Benioff. "The cloud is empowering the developer-all they have to have is a [Internet] connection and they can be anywhere in the world and tap into the cloud, with no server under the desk." Salesforce.com has come a long way toward enabling cloud development with the Force.com platform and the definition of platform as a service, or PAAS, though not without its detractors. Some analysts-and competitors-argue that the world doesn't need another proprietary programming language-on demand or not. That said, Salesforce.com is clearly doing something right, since it's not going to remain a party of one for long. Aside from industry stalwarts Oracle, Microsoft and SAP entering the market with multitenant, subscription-based CRM software with the specific goal of beating Salesforce.com, each company is, either quietly (like Microsoft) or publicly (like SAP) also building an on-demand development platform.WebEx, for example, is building an on-demand collaboration platform, while Amazon.com-not just for shopping junkies any more-is said to be launching a Web services platform in April. During his keynote address Benioff invited Marc Andreessen on stage to give his vision of the state of the emerging on-demand platform market. Andreessen is probably best known as the co-founder of Mosaic, the first widely used Web browser, but he's also the co-founder of Netscape, Loudcloud and now Ning, his latest venture that provides a platform for social networking sites. So far Ning's customers have developed 150,000 different networks that range in topic and scope from family and religious-based sites to political and health care hubs. Andreessen said he believes the PAAS wave is just beginning. "I think there's going to be a whole range, thousands of platform companies," said Andreessen. "There's a common definition of what a platform is: It means you can program it .... This shift to the Internet, the cloud, or whatever you want to call it, is a very, very big deal from many different perspectives. Seven or eight years ago significant companies started launching Web services-eBay gets a huge percentage of revenues that come through its Web services API, so we've seen a whole wave of Web services APIs. Now we're seeing a whole second wave of Internet plug-in APIs; there were thousands of new applications launched on Facebook that run somewhere else on the network. Then there's a third wave-Salesforece.com, Ning, Amazon-that [offer] fully hosted platforms where code gets uploaded in the cloud." Despite all the endorsements behind PAAS and cloud computing, it seems Salesforce.com just needs a little love from the developer community.
At the same time, other companies are emerging with the PAAS model.