Upfront - 7

Salesforce.com leaves its heart in San Francisco

The first floor of the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco is a vast marble expanse with little in the way of a lobby. A small sign points the way to an elevator that has two buttons: one for up, the other for down. Stepping in on the first floor, the only way to go is up to the fifth floor. A wide hallway lined with windows and a balcony overlooking the backside of Market Street eventually turns right and ends up at a ballroom.

At a luncheon there last week during Salesforce.coms Dreamforce conference, Gavin Newsom, San Franciscos 42nd mayor—known perhaps as well for his dating career as his political life—was the keynote speaker.

Thumb pointing up and pressed to a clenched fist—what has become, it seems, the American symbol for politicians at a podium—Newsom talked about the impact Salesforce.com has had on the city of San Francisco through the Salesforce.com Foundation, which donates 1 percent of the companys revenue, 1 percent of its technology and 1 percent of its employees time to causes around the globe. To date, the foundation has given $10 million in donations in 35 countries and sponsored 35 scholarships.

It has also helped to make over the citys Family Services Agency, which serves San Franciscos homeless population. Through the use of Salesforce.coms platform, the agency has automated the way social service workers communicate with each other and the way they serve people on the street.

"We thank you for your entrepreneurial spirit, your innovative environment and your willingness to stick it out—that is not lost on us back at City Hall," said Newsom. "The idea that you could link data to get information is new in our industry. … Its so simple yet so profound to governments."

Newsom said he was embarrassed (but clearly pleased) to report that the use of Salesforce.coms application has allowed the city, for the first time in its history, to have a sense of how many homeless people the city serves.

Newsoms 15-minute speech on the first day of the conference was, understandably, overshadowed by another speaker Salesforce.com invited.

Over at the Moscone Center, dressed in faded Levis, a blue and gray flannel shirt, and what looked to be a black corduroy blazer, George Lucas took the stage. Lucas, who created the iconic Star Wars saga, talked about his Edutopia foundation, which advocates a sort of social and emotional style of teaching K-12 students through a Web site, magazine and hands-on work.

Lucas was joined onstage by Robert Thurman, a professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies at Columbia University, the author of about 30 books on Buddhism and theology, and Umas dad.

Lucas and Thurman talked about how different styles of learning can have a huge impact on the educational process.

"From kindergarten through 12th grade, I didnt do too well at all," Lucas said. "I didnt fit in. I didnt do well with math and things inside the box, so I lived outside the box. It wasnt until college that I started enjoying the educational process."

Lucas said that through his use of technology in the film industry, he came to the conclusion that if he combined technology and learning by telling a story, he might be able to have an impact on education.

Lucas foundation advocates establishing practical purposes for learning. "It answers the age-old question of, Why am I learning this?" said Lucas, who gave the example of a kid learning calculus who questions its value in everyday life. "Calculus doesnt apply to their life. But, build a rocket or start a hedge fund, and suddenly it makes sense."

The same may apply to Salesforce.com. Not that its going to go off and build a rocket ship, but there are some clearly hands-on, practical approaches the company has taken with its largesse.

When I recalled the elevator at the Four Seasons—with its one button for up, the other for down—I couldnt help but draw a parallel with Salesforce.com.

At the moment, the company has two distinct paths—up or down—and the market will eventually determine which direction it goes. But, regardless of whether the company continues its relative meteoric rise or eventually falls by the wayside, its heart is in the right place. —Renee Boucher Ferguson

Which Windows service pack are you waiting for?

Are you waiting for Service Pack 1 before deploying Windows Vista? Based on Microsofts recent raft of Windows announcements, it looks as if companies sold on a "better SP1 than sorry" deployment strategy will be hanging tight until the first quarter of 2008.

Heres the word, straight from the keyboards of the Redmond, Wash., companys Windows PR team:

"Windows Vista SP1 beta will be released in a few weeks to a moderate-sized audience. At this time, SP1 will contain changes focused on addressing specific reliability and performance issues, supporting new types of hardware, and adding support for several emerging standards. Microsoft is targeting [the] first quarter of 2008 for Windows Vista SP1 but will collect customer feedback from our upcoming beta process before setting a final date."

Naturally, however: "Microsoft encourages organizations not to wait for SP1 but instead deploy Windows Vista today in order to benefit from improved security, management and deployment benefits."

Is Windows Vista worth skipping the wait? That might depend on whether or not youre a volume license customer. When Windows XP came out, Microsoft chose to spare customers who purchase Windows en masse from the phone-home software activation schemes that came along with retail XP copies. For Vista, no customer is spared the additional management tasks that accompany activation.

I keep telling people that if I ran Windows on my desktops, Id probably be running Vista, but considering how often I tear down and build up my systems, the added hassles of activation might have driven me back to XP. I can tell you that activation hassles are a big part of why eWeek Labs tends to default to XP for our tests that require Windows.

Ill be testing the Vista SP1 beta once it becomes available, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, if youre among those who are sticking with Windows XP, theres a service pack on the way for you as well.

If youre waiting for Windows Server 2008, youll have to hang on longer than you probably thought you would.

Again, from Microsoft: "Microsofts first priority is to deliver quality products to their customers, and therefore Windows Server 2008 is now slated to release to manufacturing in the first quarter of 2008." —Jason Brooks