About two years ago, Salesforce.com introduced its Force.com offering, through which the software-as-a-service giant invited developers to create cloud-based applications that would run on Salesforce.com's own infrastructure.
I must say that when I first heard about Salesforce.com's efforts to allow development for the cloud through its own Force.com site, I was a bit skeptical about the initiative. However, as I started to use the tools and feel my way around, my doubts gave way to intrigue.
Salesforce.com has assembled a somewhat overwhelming array of development tools for the service, enough to ensure that developers of various skill levels and tool persuasions should find a fit path to developing a Force.com application. I found options spanning from filling out form-based applications through a Web interface to writing raw code right from my desktop.
Among the numerous tools provided along with this service is a powerful plug-in for building Force.com applications right from within the Eclipse IDE (integrated development environment), which I recently put to the test. All told, Force.com is a very promising addition to Salesforce's line of services and well worth further evaluation, particularly for organizations already using Salesforce applications.
Force.com and Eclipse
I focused on the Force.com IDE, an Eclipse plug-in that enables developers to work from their desktops as they develop software for deployment on Force.com servers-an approach that reminded me of the Amazon AWS Toolkit for Eclipse that I reviewed not too long ago. As with that Amazon plug-in and most other Eclipse plug-ins I've tested, installation of the Force.com IDE was a snap. The version of the plug-in I tested didn't yet support the latest Eclipse release, Version 3.5, but since Eclipse lives inside its own isolated directory on my computer, I had no trouble maintaining simultaneous 3.5 and 3.4 installations.
Development for the Force.com platform is a bit unusual compared with traditional Eclipse development in that almost all aspects of the development actually take place on the Force.com servers. As such, when I created a new Force.com project in Eclipse, I was asked to provide my Force.com credentials, which were freely available through the Force.com developer site. As I worked in Eclipse, my code was compiled not on my local machine, but on the remote Force.com servers. Likewise, when I tested and ran the code, it all took place remotely. Yet, I found the integration rather seamless and got the feeling that the code I was working with could have been running locally.