Still, Salesforce.com knows it needs rapidly faster adoption of Force.com to retain its lead as one of the most important companies in enterprise cloud computing, particularly as Microsoft, Google, and others intensify their efforts in this area. Salesforce.com announced Thursday that it would waive subscription payments for the first 100 users of any first-time application that a company builds on Force.com.
And while Salesforce.com had 15,000 people show up for the conference -- a comparatively high number for a software company with $1.3 billion in annual revenues -- a large portion were other software companies and independent developers looking to sell apps they've built on Force.com.
During the morning session, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff said that with BMC and CA, the company had accomplished a longtime goal of having large software companies develop for Force.com. BMC CEO Bob Beauchamp appeared on stage, and said BMC would offer before summer of 2010 an application it built, in two months, which lets IT staffers identify and track server connection problems for PC users. Pricing wasn't discussed, but presumably BMC will offer the app as a subscription and pay a portion of that fee to Salesforce.com, which will host the app in its data center.
CA CEO John Swainson, also appearing onstage, said his company next year would offer a developer tool for agile development that will run on Force.com. "There will be a pre-cloud era and a post-cloud era just as there was a pre-mainframe era and a post-mainframe era," Swainson said. "This is the most profound change I've seen in IT in 30 years."
But will Salesforce.com continue to be at the head of this change? With Force.com, its cloud computing market play is for what's sometimes called the platform-as-a-service (Paas). It's a market Microsoft is pursuing, with the launch of Azure next year, and one Google wants with Google App Engine and Amazon with Amazon Web Services. Within a few years, cloud-focused developers and consultants will be prioritizing which PaaS vendors they should work for.
Salesforce.com has a good head start. Japan Post, one of Japan's largest companies, has built a customer information app (unrelated to Salesforce CRM) and an accident reporting app for use by 70,000 employees. And Avon has a Facebook application running on Force.com that helps Avon reps pitch products to their Facebook friends. Salesforce.com has dozens more large customers that started out with CRM but are experimenting and rolling out apps on Force.com.
Most Force.com apps are small and task-specific; Salesforce.com reports more than 135,000 applications have been built on Force.com platform and more than 200,000 developers have joined its developers' program. By comparison, Microsoft has just rolled out Azure to select developers, but has millions of developers using its existing technologies.
Salesforce.com's challenge in the next few years will be to convince even more CIOs and developers that it's no longer just a CRM company.