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1/17/2006
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Salesforce.com Brings Big Names Into New Apps Marketplace

Adobe, Business Objects, and Skype will offer their applications through Salesforce's new AppExchange site.

Salesforce.com's plans to introduce an on-demand applications marketplace sounded great from the moment they were revealed last fall, but skeptics were quick to point out that the software developers featured on the pre-launch AppExchange site were all little-known names that big companies would be unlikely to count on.

Not any more.

The on-demand juggernaut's latest creation went live Tuesday after being unveiled in grand fashion at San Francisco's swanky St. Regis hotel, complete with the kind of names larger customers will want to see if they're to dip their toes in the AppExchange waters. Adobe Systems, Business Objects, and Skype are the biggest vendors to throw their wares into the new marketplace, and all three were featured prominently as Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff gave customers their first look at the company's Winter '06 product release.

The centerpiece of the release clearly is AppExchange, which is backed by the new Mirrorforce hardware infrastructure that replaces Saleforce's old data center with two new ones that, beginning next month, will constantly synchronize with one another. Salesforce also went live with its new Sandbox service, a parallel instance of their Salesforce apps that customers can use to test new features without jeopardizing their data. That service runs $25 a month per user for a complete replica of a Salesforce app, or $18 a month without the data.

With Adobe, Business Objects, and Skype, Salesforce has infused AppExchange with the kind of tools that are demanded by the larger customers Benioff and Co. covet. The Adobe app, based on its Create Adobe PDF Online service, lets customers create PDFs of Salesforce documents with a single click; Business Objects has agreed to make its latest Crystal Reports business-intelligence software available on AppExchange, which will let customers combine their Salesforce data with information from other sources to generate real-time reports directly from within Salesforce; and Skype's software is available as a Salesforce-built plug-in that enables companies to embed voice-over-IP capabilities in their Salesforce environments for doing things like launching multi-party conference calls.

It's all part of what Benioff is now calling the "Business Web," an on-demand universe of applications and services that companies can use to run their entire operations. "The Business Web is the future of computing," he said during a keynote speech at the launch, adding that the Business Web lets users pick technology components "that weren't made to work together." And it's something he believes no one else has--most notably, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP. "They're still on the old model, and that old model isn't as productive for the developer, and it's not as efficient for the customer," he said. "They're invested into their maintenance streams."

The inclusion of big-name software developers in the AppExchange lineup answers many of the questions Salesforce had faced about the service, says Credit Suisse Securities LLC analyst Jason Maynard. "The fact that Adobe, Business Objects, and Skype were all here I think totally puts the rubber stamp of approval on this," says Maynard. "Today marks the day that Saleforce is clearly no longer just a CRM play. It's on-demand applications platforms for everybody."

Moreover, says Maynard, having better-known vendors in the fold is likely to generate more interest among big-name software firms. "If I'm Cognos, or I'm MicroStrategy, or I'm Hyperion, I say, 'Wait a minute, Business Objects is doing this, so where's my on-demand software-as-a-service BI capability?'" he says.

Maynard says he sees a lot of potential for the Adobe, Business Objects, and Skype tools, and he expects the Adobe capabilities in particular to yield immediate benefits. "That's what salespeople do all day long is generate proposals," he says. "To be able to do that from Salesforce in a PDF is awesome."

There's no cost for accessing AppExchange or trying out any of the more than 160 tools now offered, but the applications themselves are only available for purchase by current Salesforce customers, and each participating vendor sets fees. Apps built by Salesforce are free in most cases.

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