Is Application Development Ready to Be at Your Service?

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2004-05-06 Print this article Print

Toolkits like sforce dare to be compared against general-purpose app dev products.

When Im pressed for time on a Monday, I remind myself that this newsletter column is really only supposed to be about 250 words of commentary on current topics that are addressed at greater length by the hard-working news staff of Yeah, right. By the time I try to put those events into my own, umm, distinctive context, I usually wind up writing twice that much—sometimes more than three times—and I hope that the result isnt more than you really want to read. Your feedback on this, as on any other aspect of these letters, is more than welcome.
One of the things that keeps me busy is my preference for early-morning meetings—like my breakfast last Thursday with Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of, newly named as Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year by his alma mater, the University of Southern California. We talked about the advent of application development platforms and tools as a service, with Benioffs sforce toolkit as perhaps the most compelling existence proof.
I noted the emergence of sforce as a component of more traditional developer packages when I reviewed Borlands JBuilder X in January. Its important not to think of sforce as merely an extensibility interface for the CRM (customer relationship management) offerings of, but increasingly as an open-ended opportunity to develop custom applications while letting someone else worry about commodity issues like storage management and user authentication. You didnt insist on devising your own file system when you had DOS; you didnt insist on writing your own graphics routines and user input/output routines once you had Windows; perhaps its time to think about application development tools as getting ready to cross the same threshold. When I spoke with Marc about this notion, I realized that it represents the mirror image of the solution offered by Sun Microsystems in its Java Studio Enterprise package that I review in todays issue of eWEEK. The distinctive proposition of Suns enterprise-oriented developer environment is that it installs, deploys, and configures a constellation of servers for tasks like identity management, dramatically lowering the barrier to developers who want to use such services in their applications. Well and good, but thinking about the sforce alternative makes me ask myself, "Do I actually want to install and deploy an identity management server, even if it only takes a single click of my mouse? Or would I rather just get that capability from a service provider, and let someone else worry about installation and deployment and configuration and maintenance?" Its a question well worth asking. Anyway, I plan to take up Marcs challenge to me and to anyone else who looks at development tools: "Dont compare us to other CRM offerings and ask if were equally extensible," he urged. "Compare us to products like Filemaker and Access, and ask if were equally capable of creating whatever application you need." Thats a different and very interesting question that I hope to ask and answer in our labs at some time in the next few months; I hope youll share your own answers with me. Tell me if youre ready for service-based development at Check out eWEEKs Developer & Web Services Center at for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools.
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Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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