Salesforce.com has already built the software-sharing platform. The question now is will the developers come by the hundreds and thousands? Salesforce.com says they are already starting to show up.
The company claims that it already is working with as many as 150 announced application partners, including several that were exhibiting their products at the companys Dreamforce user conference.
While this is an encouraging start, Salesforce.com has a lot more work to do to prove that it can develop a long-term self-sustaining community that might even make some money producing third-party applications that run on its CRM (customer relationship management) platform.
CEO Marc Benioff contends that his companys CRM platform is no different from Microsoft PC DOS and Windows: It is a platform for building, customizing and deploying applications. Only this time users dont have to buy shrink-wrapped software with floppy disks or CD-ROMs containing software that they have to put on desktops or servers.
Now the software exists totally on the Internet, and Salesforce.com and its partners are only trading access to that software. But how can AppExchange become the launching pad for a wide range of applications that goes far beyond its original purpose as a CRM platform?
Tien Tzuo, Salesforce.coms senior vice president of product management, said it will work simply because all the components are in place: the application platform, customization capabilities, application integration, an on-demand database system and the data centers necessary to give subscribers Internet access to the applications.
"We have got all the ingredients that you really need to make this happen. AppExchange is really the match, the catalyst" that will set the process in motion, he said.
"We couldnt do this six years ago," Tzuo said, because the Internet and application development technology werent mature enough to support hosted applications or application sharing. Its 308,000 subscribers and 150 application partners are the key assets that will allow Salesforce.com to nurture a vibrant developer "ecosystem" that can grow and evolve over the long term.
AppExchange isnt just a platform for small-scale applets and add-on components for Salesforce.coms CRM applications, according to Tzuo. There is no reason why AppExchange couldnt be the launch pad for large and successful application companies just like MS-DOS became the launch pad for scores of major software companies, such as Lotus, Borland and WordPerfect.