Salesforce.com to roll out 'Apex' programming language

It hopes to lure partners, customers to AppExchange marketplace

Hosted online CRM and business applications provider Salesforce.com Inc. is looking to fill out its current offerings with new developer resources, including a new programming language and platform.

The initiatives were announced at the company's Dreamforce 2006 user conference being held in San Francisco this week. Salesforce.com has over the past year sought to expand beyond merely providing sales and marketing tools to offering a full set of hosted business applications via its AppExchange software marketplace. Customers can purchase a variety of applications through AppExchange, which rents out software from both Salesforce.com and its partners. Some 400 such applications are available.

Now, Salesforce.com is taking that effort further with Apex, a new Java-like programming language and platform that will let customers and partners create potentially millions of on-demand applications, according to Kendall Collins, senior vice president of marketing at Salesforce.com. As an example, a developer could write an application to support a transactional or logistical process and then check the application into AppExchange. Using Salesforce.com's existing database, middleware, security and hardware infrastructure, the application could then be offered to customers for purchase through AppExchange, said Collins.

The platform will allow developers to work in whatever programming environment they want. For instance, Salesforce.com will offer plug-ins and other technologies as part of a toolkit to allow developers working in the Eclipse open-source development environment to port the application to AppExchange.

As part of a new incubator program, Salesforce.com will also provide, for $20,000 per cubicle, physical access to development resources and infrastructure to developers interested in creating applications for AppExchange. This will allow them to avoid the start-up costs associated with launching an independent company, said Collins.

Despite a lack of details, the Apex launch sounded appealing to Bernie Sims, a CRM project director at Kaiser Permanente, an Oakland, Calif.-based provider of health care services. The Apex offerings could allow Kaiser Permanente, which has 650 Salesforce.com sales and account management users and has been a subscriber for two years, to integrate Salesforce.com with its other systems more efficiently, he said.

The Apex offerings could help Salesforce.com compete with much larger rivals like SAP AG or Oracle Corp. by allowing it to offer much more complex applications than before, said analyst Rebecca Wettemann of Nucleus Research Inc., a Wellesley, Mass.- based consultancy. It could also be Salesforce.com's way of providing its own service-oriented architecture platform, she suggested.

The Apex platform will be available by January, with the incubator program in place sometime in early 2007.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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