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Salesforce.com wants application developers. But instead of recruiting them in the traditional way it is making its on-demand platform available as a free service to aspiring Software as a Service (SaaS) developers. It even sees this as a developer "shop window" aimed at venture capitalists.

The approach is straight forward: you develop the applications and salesforce.com will list them in its on-line application directory AppExchange and host them - free. If someone selects your application and starts to use it you get a rental fee - and salesforce.com takes a slice to cover its operational costs.

The key to the new service is a new programming language called Apex which is geared to building SaaS applications which can run on salesforce.com's platform.

"Apex is like Java and if you know Java you will be able to use it easily. The main difference to standard Java is that the programs generated with Apex are designed to run in a shared execution environment," explained Phill Robinson, chief operating officer for sales at salesforce.com.

He says this opens a whole new market for application developers - with minimum investment on their part. "Typically, if you set up an application development shop you have to build a hosting environment and invest in servers and a huge infrastructure. We have done all this and we can supply it free to the developer or independent service vendor."

Robinson compares the AppExchange directory to eBay and says there are already over 500 applications listed covering a broad range of activity from Skype and Google integration to estate management and human resources.

He also says the idea appeals to venture capitalists. "We see it as the way forward for application development - why would you build software in the traditional way when you can do it like this? Venture capitalists are catching on and have invested around $146 million in Apex developers so far."

Apex will be generally available later this year and developer previews are available here

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