Upfront - 4

Benioff backs off

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff isnt spitting fire like he used to.

That may not be a bad thing.

There was a time when Benioff wouldnt spare Microsoft a bit of criticism nor Google a bit of praise. Microsoft, after all, represents the antithesis of the business and software delivery model Salesforce.com champions. Salesforce.coms "No More Software" credo could have just as easily been taken for "No More Microsoft," if not for the existence of another on-premises archenemy, SAP.

On the other hand, because it is more consumer-oriented, Google had been the more visible avatar of what Salesforce.com stands for in the enterprise space: Hosted everything, all the time.

Benioff, in New York the evening of Sept. 4 to address Citibanks technology conference the following day, circulated among some 40 members of the media, analyst, partner and customer community whom he hosted for dinner at Tao.

No, Benioff didnt blow kisses at Microsoft. But he did give credit to the vendor for some of what its doing. And while he said, "I love Google," he also offered a critical assessment of Googles enterprise applications.

No doubt this has nothing to do with Googles more forceful moves into the enterprise space of late.

In New York, Benioff was so mellow that it seemed appropriate to ask him about rumors he is thinking of stepping away from the helm of the company he founded. He rebutted this, noting that he doesnt even have a succession plan in place, and cited Bill Gates and Larry Ellison as role models. Gates has been at the helm of Microsoft for more than 30 years, while Ellison has led Oracle for almost as long.

But Bill Gates as a role model for Marc Benioff? Who woulda thunk it? And while Benioff seemed as excited as ever about his own companys innovations—he said Salesforce will announce something "really big" during its Dreamforce customer conference Sept. 17—he seemed more like a grown-up discussing his peers than a tempestuous adolescent railing at his elders.

Microsofts alternative SAAS (software as a service) vision, dubbed software plus service, "can work in some cases," Benioff allowed, a startling admission for a man who has spent countless hours deriding Microsoft as a dinosaur.

Benioff also reserved some criticism for Google, saying that the companys hosted word processing application still doesnt have enough functionality for the enterprise. "They need to work harder," he said.

This change in perspective, however, doesnt reflect any lack of ambition for his company. Rather, it shows how far SAAS has come since the days people suspiciously viewed it as unreliable or unsafe.

For instance, CIT, a financial services company with more than $70 billion in assets under management and that does 30 percent of its business outside the United States, runs 3,000 seats of Salesforce.coms flagship applications across its 17 business units. Avi Kalderon, senior vice president of enterprise technologies at CIT, in New York, said cost was not an issue in choosing Salesforce. In fact, Kalderon said, the total cost of ownership evens out when compared with on-premises software with a perpetual license after five years. Kalderon said that even when planned service interruptions go on for more than 24 hours during the weekend, it doesnt affect his companys business because he has a "back door" to legacy systems available when Salesforce is down.

"Even two days on weekends is not a problem," Kalderon said. "I sleep well on the weekend."

Kalderons comfort level reflects the maturation of this delivery model, and that in turn may explain why Benioff can turn down the volume on his vitriol and simply vaunt the prowess of his products. —Michael Hickins

Apples mobile aspirations

The iPod Touch models ($299 for an 8GB device or $399 for 16GB) look almost identical to the iPhone, just slightly skinnier. The device appears to have the same layout, and the screen has the same features and some of the same icons.

To reduce costs, Apple will undoubtedly be using many of the same parts in the Touch as in the iPhone—the touch-screen, processors, storage components and so forth. Its been reported that the same applies to the operating system, which makes sense, as Apple would benefit from having a single OS (Mac OS X) and development platform to work on for both the iPhone and the Touch.

Like the iPhone, the Touch has 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, which could prove an excellent way to get around the unfortunate AT&T exclusivity contract with which the iPhone is saddled. The Touch also has Apples Safari browser and the same virtual keyboard, so users can expand their connectivity to networks protected by a captive portal or log-in page.

So if the Touch is running OS X, it stands to reason that the various Jailbreak applications can be easily adapted to hack into the new device, leading to a host of unauthorized applications that could then be run on it. One application I am particularly interested in would be a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) client application that uses Wi-Fi connectivity. It would be the next logical step in Apples evolution toward mobile communications.

However, Im not so sure Apple will want to cross AT&T for this particular feature—at least not until there is a viable business model that could be attached to the capability. So, while I would much prefer to see Apple actually include a widget for a SIP VOIP (voice over IP) platform, it seems more likely that the community at large will lead the way with a SIP client application—possibly something that would work with the Gizmo network.

All this hinges on one detail I have yet to be clear on. Will the iPod Touch have a microphone? If Apple is indeed using many of the same parts on the Touch as on the iPhone, then it is possible that a microphone is in there and that it can be unlocked in software.

If its not in there, this whole argument is moot for the Touch—although I would still love to see it for the iPhone. In truth, it may be the only application that would make me want to hack into mine. —Andrew Garcia

Kissing up to IT

Among the range of projects, hacks, tricks and life tips on Wired.coms new collaborative site, IT support makes the list of critical co-workers worth "sucking up to."

Having these people on your side will make your life easier, the post reads; creating an enemy of them can make your life miserable.

Of course, the reasoning isnt exactly about being "friends" with IT support as much as manipulating their egos, lack of social skills and intelligence to an employees advantage. In other words: same stereotype, different day.

Workers are encouraged to make friends with IT support staff and stroke their egos. "Lets face it," the multiauthor entry reads, "he is a techie type and may not have the greatest of social skills (may not), but he is smart and likes it when you tell him so. The key here is be his buddy and flatter him. What would I do without you? You saved my documents."

Doing so, the posters contend, will ensure that next time youll be ahead of even the boss in the line for IT.

The list of "donts" for dealing with IT support staff reads a little closer to the reality of the daily grind of a technology pro. Employees are discouraged from calling the help desk multiple times with the same problem and trying to cover it up with chit-chat.

"[The support person] knows why youre calling when youve got a tech problem, and its not to discuss your date last night. In fact, he likely resents your calls and drop bys that are merely fake-friend visits meant to mask what you really want. He may even get annoyed and push you further down the list."

So, according to the posters: Lavishing the IT support desk with exaggerated praise to better response time, good. Pretending to be friends with IT support staff to get a problem solved more quickly, bad.

To me, it sounds as if the average employee still doesnt know how to respectfully ask the IT department for help. —Deborah Perelman