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Salesforce force feeds SaaS to the masses

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Dreamforce Chief executive Marc Benioff today kicked-off Salesforce.com's fifth, annual Dreamforce conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco by citing customer numbers, growing developer and partner channels, and increased revenues as proof that Salesforce.com will force its way onto the software industry's table.

Salesforce.com now has 900,000 subscribers spread across 35,300 organizations while individual deployments are growing, Benioff announced today. He flagged up Japan Post, Dell and Cisco Systems, with 45,000, 40,000 and 30,000 subscribers. With annual company revenue of more than $600m, Salesforce.com is now "on its way to $1bn run rate in the next fiscal year," he proclaimed.

According to Benioff, the Salesforce.com architecture and platform has become a development environment in its own right alongside Java and .NET. Meanwhile, the AppExchange market place, launched in September 2005 with 70 applications, is now home to 700 applications and used by 355 independent software vendors (ISVs).

Benioff announced services and partnerships to take Salesforce.com into new markets. Among these is Visualforce, an environment that cuts the tab-based Salesforce.com interface into components to enable developers to build their own interfaces while using the underlying Salesforce.com platform - including data models, integration, security and hosting. According to Salesforce.com, interfaces and services can be built to run on different devices, such as a PC, mobile phone, or on the embedded system in a car without needing to re-write the underlying application.

Visualforce is due for release in 2008 with a developer preview in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Benioff laid down the gauntlet to Microsoft, by claiming that ISVs could build services for devices such as tablet computers faster and easier with the data stored on the Salesforce.com platform for cross-platform access than they could using Windows or .NET, .

"Our vision is to become the first multi-application, multi-category SaaS company. We started as single application company - Salesforce automation - that's how we made our name," he said.

He highlighted companies building applications based entirely on Salesforce.com, in an apparent attempt to counter criticism that Salesforce.com is "just" CRM (customer relationship management). Business software specialist Coda Group was wheeled on to announce its hosted new, financial management software, Coda 2go.

Also unveiled today, was the Winter 07 release of Salesforce.com. Among the new features, Salesforce Content, for content management, and Salesforce Ideas it described as something that would allow online communities to "submit, discuss and promote ideas."

With so many different services, Benioff claimed his company has become a victim of its success. "A lot of these [services] are new to our customers. They don't know about our marketing technology, or indirect channel management capabilities... many of our customers don't know all the capabilities we have, which is shocking to us," he said.

Some of the oldest and best-known names, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, compete with Salesforce.com by providing both business applications and a platform - operating system or data store - that developers and partners can build on.

SAP, for instance, is this week expected to try to keep Salesforce.com in its shadow by announcing a name for its on demand business application service, codenamed A1S. But while it continues to outstrip Salesforce.com in revenue, its upstart rival has assembled a customer footprint of comparable size, and in quicker time, than SAP. ®

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