Microsoft is giving notice that it plans to directly challenge Salesforce.coms online application marketplace, AppExchange, and on-demand programming language and platform, Apex.
Microsoft announced at their World Wide Partner Conference in Denver this week the planned launch, in 2008, of a new on-demand marketplace in which Microsoft partners can showcase their company, applications and templates to customers. Customers can, in turn, download functionality and rate partner efforts.
Partner "content" will also be directly integrated with Microsofts CRM Live software, the companys on-demand, multitenant CRM (customer relationship management) software, according to Brad Wilson, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
Sound familiar? Salesforce.coms AppExchange does the same thing. Although Salesforce users currently have to contact partners directly to purchase applications, the company is planning to release new AppStore functionality that will both monetize transactions and actively market partner solutions. The company will also release later this year its Apex programming language that will enable developers—partners, customers or anyone else—to build on-demand applications.
But according to Microsoft, its marketplace is not a response to mounting competition from Salesforce, but rather an idea that has been floating around the company "for years."
"Its about accelerating what our partners can do and reach a broader audience," said Wilson. "This is not in response to anybody, but it definitely will be in competition."
Wilsons WWDC demo centered on a partner application that converted Microsofts basic CRM application to one tailored for event management. "[The partner application] reconfigured the entire app — data model, workflow — all in 10 seconds," said Wilson in an interview with eWEEK. "It went from a vanilla CRM to configured CRM using partner intellectual property in seconds."
Mike Snyder, principal at Sonoma Partners, a Microsoft CRM partner, said that Microsofts marketplace will be a great place to get exposure—and will enable him to compete better with Salesforce.com for at least the next year.
"Conceptually Microsoft CRM is very customizable, very configurable," said Snyder. "A customer goes out to the marketplace [and finds] pre-built customizations. [As a partner] if you are in real estate and want to put in your customizations you dont have to build from scratch. You click a button and suck [Microsofts template] into your system."
The template concept is key to Microsofts strategy with the marketplace because it lets partners develop add-on applications to CRM, either using the CRM application or Visual Basic .Net.
"We have a complete configuration ability in our [CRM] system [through Windows Workflow Foundation] and if you dont want to use that you can use Visual Studio to make changes to the application," said Wilson.
"We have a metadata driven application system, all based on XML data that our systems define, based on workflow streams. When you modify CRM you can export; [when you export] you create a template that can be applied to a hundred other CRM systems – XML meta data imported that dynamically reconfigures the system and totally transforms the application. Its a reusable model."
To kick start the concept of reusable templates Microsoft announced July 10 two new industry templates for Dynamics CRM, one for the public sector and the other for manufacturing industries. The templates include reference data models, pre-defined workflows and roles-based user experiences. The templates are designed to work with Dynamics CRM 3.0—Microsofts pre on-demand release; it will be updated later in the year to work with Titan, or CRM Live, at the end of the year.
As for Salesforce, their Apex programming language, due in December, is designed to enable developers to build multitenant on-demand applications using Apex as a service—so no infrastructure, no set up costs, just a flat-out development environment.
The Apex code sits on the Apex platform—a set of tools for building applications including models and objects to manage data, a workflow engine for managing collaboration between users, a user interface model to handle forms and the Salesforce API for programmatic access and integration with other applications.
When asked about the comparison between Microsofts marketplace and AppExchange Bruce Francis, Salesforce.coms vice president of corporate strategy, said hes not too worried, given Salesforce has yet to actually compete against Microsoft in an on-demand deal.
"I would love to see this mythical beast called Microsoft CRM Live that we keep hearing about. Microsoft is definitely putting out new press releases but we havent seen any product," said Francis, in San Francisco.
"With the marketplace, what APIs are developers using? Where will this run? Are they going to have development as a service? All these things we dont know. These are questions that Microsoft customers and partners are going to ask. At Salesforce, we like to have very clear responses to these things. Are we concerned about competing with Microsoft? We have yet to compete with them."