Customers Praise New Apex Platform

Reporter's Notebook: Customers at's annual Dreamforce conference are overwhelmingly positive about Apex, even though no one has really used it yet.

Granted, its only been one day since announced Apex, its new programming language and platform. Not enough time for anyone to really digest whats going on, right?

Wrong. The response to Apex from customers (and, not surprisingly, partners) has really been overwhelmingly positive. I spent a good amount of time Oct. 9 and Oct. 10, the first and second days of Salesforce.coms annual Dreamforce conference here in San Francisco, talking to people—developers, sales executives, partners.

I wandered around the show floor, haunted the lunch area, stopped people on the street. My main questions: What do you think of Apex? Will you develop applications using a proprietary language from And if so, will you develop beyond the confines of CRM (customer relationship management), clearly Salesforce.coms sweet spot?

The surprising thing is that everyone I stopped had an opinion. The response, bar none: Salesforce is on to something with Apex.

"Its great. It allows us the flexibility to be truly customizable," said Thomas Grady, the director of world wide customer service with Novariant, in Menlo Park, Calif.

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Grady said his company would use Apex to extend CRM-based applications, to develop internal Web portals, push information up to dealer networks and tie into partners.

The caveat for Grady, and for other customers that I spoke with: Apex development will remain within the confines of the CRM realm. At least for now.

But Salesforce has aspirations beyond CRM development—indeed theyve pitched Apex as a platform and language to develop any type of on-demand application.

Some industry watchers have suggested that Salesforce is looking for an entrée to ERP (enterprise resource planning) development with Apex.

Marc Benioff, the CEO of, was clear during an Oct. 9 press Q&A that that is not a goal.

"I think its hard enough to be focused on a couple of things [CRM and a platform] and do them really well," said Benioff. "If you do more, you try and do too much. We just want to do a couple of things really, really well and partner to do the rest."

That said, theres no question Apex is, in Salesforces way of thinking, applicable for ERP development—or any other kind of on-demand application development.

They want to be, as one analyst pointed out, the platform for on-demand development in the future.

Its interesting that customers had no hesitation with the concept of hosting their development environment on Salesforce.coms infrastructure, despite the well published downtime troubles Salesforce ran into in 2005.

"With the tremendous development in application security over the past couple of years I have no problem putting my credit card information online," said Richard Gonzales, an executive with Pegasus Solutions in Dallas. "And I have no problem having my data stored in Salesforce."

John Caine, director of technology strategy at The Phoenix Companies in Hartford, Conn., was a Salesforce customer during last years spate of outages.

"They havent had any problems since the system instability and really, out of sight out of mind," said Caine, "It may prove to be shortsighted —certainly there is an element of risk [hosting development with Salesforce] … With Apex we sort of have to accept that risk of performance and reliability. But what you get is an increased level of access to data and to logic."

Next Page: Offloading infrastructure costs.