Salesforce.com previewed a major new service initiative it plans to announce at its Dreamforce 2007 conference next week. Force.com is an on-demand application development platform that promises to extend Salesforce's subscriber base far beyond traditional business software users. It's not expected for general release until later in 2008.
Force.com, which features something the company calls Visualforce technology, will give customers, developers and independent software vendors (ISV) (define) the ability to create custom applications and user interfaces that can be accessed from desktop PCs, iPhones or retail kiosks using the Salesforce.com (Quote) service.
"Customers don't want to build a Web application, put it on a Web server and then run it from a datacenter," Ariel Kelman, Salesforce.com's senior director of platform product marketing, said in an interview with InternetNews.com. "They like our on-demand service for CRM applications and they want all their applications and the development of their applications to be just as easy."
By tapping into the logic and workflow intelligence of its Apex Code, Visualforce lets users design interfaces that can be tailored to the look and feel of their brands rather than displaying their applications in the standard Salesforce.com format and design. Visualforce uses HTML, AJAX and Flex programming languages to give any customer with an Internet connection the ability to create and share their custom applications throughout their organizations.
"It's the next logical step for Salesforce.com," said Denis Pombriant, an analyst at Stoughton, Mass.-based Beagle Research Group. "It's building a tool as opposed to a customization capability for an existing application."
Force.com's features will certainly be of interest to new customers like Japan Post, a postal and financial services firm that signed up with Salesforce.com last quarter. The 45,000-subscriber firm is now Salesforce.com's largest customer.
"Japan Post developed its own post office compliance application to make sure all their retail locations are providing great service," Kelman said. "We didn't and probably couldn't design that application. Force.com will allow us to extend our services beyond CRM and our traditional customers to a new group of users who don't need CRM but still build a ton of internal applications."
Kelman said the Force.com platform gives customers the ability to run multiple applications within the same Salesforce.com instance, allowing all of a company's Salesforce.com applications to share the same security settings, data models and user interface.
used the Salesforce.com platform to build an application to schedule appearances for characters like Mickey Mouse and Goofy. Electronic Arts
, which develops video-game software, is using it to design a recruiting application.