Is Application Development Ready to Be at Your Service?

Toolkits like sforce dare to be compared against general-purpose app dev products.

When Im pressed for time on a Monday, I remind myself that this newsletter column is really only supposed to be about 250 words of commentary on current topics that are addressed at greater length by the hard-working news staff of

Yeah, right.

By the time I try to put those events into my own, umm, distinctive context, I usually wind up writing twice that much—sometimes more than three times—and I hope that the result isnt more than you really want to read. Your feedback on this, as on any other aspect of these letters, is more than welcome.

One of the things that keeps me busy is my preference for early-morning meetings—like my breakfast last Thursday with Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of, newly named as Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year by his alma mater, the University of Southern California. We talked about the advent of application development platforms and tools as a service, with Benioffs sforce toolkit as perhaps the most compelling existence proof.

I noted the emergence of sforce as a component of more traditional developer packages when I reviewed Borlands JBuilder X in January. Its important not to think of sforce as merely an extensibility interface for the CRM (customer relationship management) offerings of, but increasingly as an open-ended opportunity to develop custom applications while letting someone else worry about commodity issues like storage management and user authentication.

You didnt insist on devising your own file system when you had DOS; you didnt insist on writing your own graphics routines and user input/output routines once you had Windows; perhaps its time to think about application development tools as getting ready to cross the same threshold.

When I spoke with Marc about this notion, I realized that it represents the mirror image of the solution offered by Sun Microsystems in its Java Studio Enterprise package that I review in todays issue of eWEEK. The distinctive proposition of Suns enterprise-oriented developer environment is that it installs, deploys, and configures a constellation of servers for tasks like identity management, dramatically lowering the barrier to developers who want to use such services in their applications.

Well and good, but thinking about the sforce alternative makes me ask myself, "Do I actually want to install and deploy an identity management server, even if it only takes a single click of my mouse? Or would I rather just get that capability from a service provider, and let someone else worry about installation and deployment and configuration and maintenance?" Its a question well worth asking.

Anyway, I plan to take up Marcs challenge to me and to anyone else who looks at development tools: "Dont compare us to other CRM offerings and ask if were equally extensible," he urged. "Compare us to products like Filemaker and Access, and ask if were equally capable of creating whatever application you need." Thats a different and very interesting question that I hope to ask and answer in our labs at some time in the next few months; I hope youll share your own answers with me.

Tell me if youre ready for service-based development at

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