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12/9/2008
03:49 PM
Rob Preston
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Salesforce CEO Benioff Sinks Teeth Into Non-SaaS Rivals

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff took his company's cloud computing show to New York on Monday, complete with eardrum-splitting rock music and a wandering "No Software" mascot. Beyond the hype, here are the notable takeaways, gleaned from the company's two-and-a-half-hour presentation and a sit-down interview with Benioff.

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff took his company's cloud computing show to New York on Monday, complete with eardrum-splitting rock music and a wandering "No Software" mascot. Beyond the hype, here are the notable takeaways, gleaned from the company's two-and-a-half-hour presentation and a sit-down interview with Benioff.Salesforce is getting even closer to Google, announcing a set of tools and services for letting Force.com developers write to the Google App Engine platform. (Salesforce.com customers already can use versions of Google Apps -- Gmail, Calendar, etc. -- that are tightly linked to Salesforce.com CRM apps.)

In a demo at the Salesforce event, a mock Web-based slot machine application from Harrah's Entertainment was ported to a Harrah's customer's iGoogle page, and then the "winnings" generated from that app were synced with the Salesforce-based app Harrah's uses to book services for its best customers.

Salesforce is positioning its loose alliance with Google, Amazon Web Services, Facebook, and other pure-play Web vendors against the software establishment. Will we see consolidation or more direct competition among those cloud computing partners, which now integrate one another's features, apps, and other services? Not likely, says Benioff. "We're not like Microsoft. We don't have to control everything."

Which of Salesforce's big application rivals -- SAP, Oracle, or Microsoft -- will present the biggest threat as a software-as-a-service provider? Benioff singled out Oracle and CEO Larry Ellison. "When you see him coming out so strongly against cloud computing, you know he's worried," Benioff said, noting that Ellison is a student of Sun Tzu's The Art of War -- when weak, feign strength. It's also worth noting that Ellison, Benioff's former boss at Oracle, owns a chunk of Salesforce, so Benioff isn't so quick to slag off his former master as he is to diss Microsoft and SAP.

And dissing Microsoft is something Benioff loves to do. He said he isn't impressed with Microsoft's projection that half of the revenue from its Exchange, SharePoint, and CRM apps businesses will come from online versions within five years. ("Didn't they say that five years ago?," Benioff quipped.)

When Microsoft rewrites its apps from scratch for a Web environment, Benioff said, then he'll be impressed. When Microsoft takes Hotmail and offers a version for the enterprise "then they'll be there." Or when it takes another of its cash cows, like Excel, and offers a wholly new Web version similar to Google Spreadsheets, then he'll take notice. "Microsoft's cash cows have mad cow disease," Benioff said with a half smile, enamored of his new one-liner. "And they don't have long to live." (It isn't lost on me, however, that SharePoint, one of Microsoft's newest software lines, already is as big as all of Salesforce.com: about a billion dollars in revenue.)

Now that Salesforce is moving beyond sales force automation apps -- selling the Force.com "platform-as-a-service" and other apps such as the Ideas innovation tools, has the Salesforce.com name outlived its usefulness? Is Benioff considering changing the name to Force.com? Apparently not. "CRM is still our Trojan horse," he says, referring to customers like Dell that start with SFA and then embrace Ideas and other Salesforce apps. What's more, Salesforce.com's brand equity transcends the literal description -- much like InformationWeek's does, Benioff noted.

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