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Sforce--Linux, Microsoft Developers Can Repurpose Apps, But Not Through Open Source

On the Edge of Open Source

  • June 5, 2003
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

In an announcement unusual in lots of ways, Salesforce.com is teaming with Microsoft, Sun, Borland, and BEA on a new Web development environment dubbed Sforce. Developers working in Linux, Unix, and Windows environments will all be able to repurpose Sforce's Web applications, although not through open source. Meanwhile, however, Saleforce itself is in the process of moving from a mainly Linux production environment to "100 percent Linux," said Salesforce Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff.

During a launch event this week in New York City, Benioff hailed the Sforce notion as a "radically new concept." Sforce "is not a pancea yet, but it's as close as we've ever come in this industry," according to Benioff.

Under the Sforce approach, ISVs are writing Web tools and utilities that can be repurposed by other developers, who may not know how to write advanced code. Salesforce will expose the Sforce API, but application source code won't be shared, according to Benioff. Instead, developers will connect outside apps to Sforce by pointing and clicking within toolsets like Microsoft Visual Basic, Sun ONE Studio Borland JBuilder, and BEA WebLogic Workshop. XML and SOAP calls will be automatically placed to the Sforce environment

Analysts generally agree that Sforce represents a departure from previous ASP models, both architecturally and in a business sense. Up to now, customers have merely accessed Salesforce's ASP applications.

Now, corporate developers working in Linux, Unix or Windows visual toolsets will be able to customize and integrate the apps. "There's also the opportunity for vertical market ISVs to create apps for Sforce and earn revenues from them," noted Sheryl Kingston, an analyst at the Yankee Group.

Adam Bosworth, BEA's chief architect and senior VP of advanced development, described Sforce as a "high abstraction layer." Sforce is as useful as a development platform than an operating system (OS), or even moreso, since database and application server functionality--along with the attendant hardware infrastructure--are already built in, according to Bosworth.

Vendors such as SAP, PeopleSoft, and Siebel have also "been trying to turn their environments into 'platforms,'" observed Wendy Close, an analyst with Gartner Group. Salesforce.com, though, is the first ASP to make this pitch, according to the analyst.

"We like open source, and we are moving to 100 percent Linux," Benioff said in an interview at the event. "Linux is easier, faster, and cheaper." Within its production environment, Salesforce currently runs a mix of Linux and Sun Solaris servers.

Salesforce uses Eclipse for internal development. "All of our app servers are now running Linux, and we're well under way with Linux search engines, too," noted Dave Moellenhoff, Salesforce's CTO, also during the event. At this point, however, Salesforce's Oracle database continues to run on Sun cluster servers.

Salesforce, though, is about to start testing Oracle 9i RAC on Red Hat Linux. "Oracle is a very proprietary environment. Yet at the moment, databases like MySQL aren't really there," he said. Moellenhoff hopes to be able to move the Salesforce database to Linux within the next 12 to 18 months.

"Our developers like open source because it's easier to get in there and fix code," according to Moellenhoff. Salesforce's office environment, in contrast, is based on Windows 2000, mainly due to the company's internal use of Microsoft Exchange 2000. "There really isn't an equivalent mail server out there right now for Linux," he argued.

So if Salesforce is in favor of open source, why won't it open source the Sforce apps? "Open source is really for commodities like the OS and Apache," Bosworth theorized. "(Open source) isn't for applications. Applications are where you can add value and make money."

What's in Sforce for the other partners? "Microsoft and the other partners see Sforce as a way to help sell development tools," answered Mike Hanley, engineering practice manager for Vertigo Software, who demo'd the use of Visual Basic with Sforce at the launch.

"Interoperable Web services is a reasonably innovative paradigm," conceded Dan'l Lewin, corporate VP of Microsoft .NET Business Development, speaking at the event.

In other interviews, representatives of Borland and BEA emphasized that their tools run on Linux, in addition to other OS. The Sforce platform will use Java instead of .NET though, on the back end.

Stans Kleijnen, Sun's VP for market development engineering, pointed to the unusual happenstance of a joint appearance by Sun and Microsoft at the same product launch. Sun has written an Sforce portlet for Sun One Portal Server. Kleignen also also hinted, though, that more Sforce announcements might be forthcoming from Sun next week. "Stay tuned for next week (at) Java One," she said.

About 25 other vendors are also building utilities and tools for Sforce. Business Objects, for example, is reportedly readying a business analytics and reporting tool. Above All Software, on the other hand, is offering a toolset for integrating Sforce applications with enterprise software from companies like Oracle, SAP, and Remedy.

"Salesforce has exposed its API before. What's new about Sforce, however, is that the API now includes WSDL (Web Services Document Language)," said Gino Padua, AboveAll's VP of sales and business development. WSDL is an XML format which is used in multivendor environments to help spell out specific details about applications, documents, and procedures.

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