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Software Is Dead? Benioff Says He May Have Exaggerated Demise

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff made a splash with his announcements of ties to Facebook and Amazon's computing cloud at his company's Dreamforce user group meeting this week. "None of these announcements will produce discrete revenue," points out Steven Ashley, the Robert W. Baird investment bank analyst who shared my table at lunch. Then again, they don't necessarily need to.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff made a splash with his announcements of ties to Facebook and Amazon's computing cloud at his company's Dreamforce user group meeting this week. "None of these announcements will produce discrete revenue," points out Steven Ashley, the Robert W. Baird investment bank analyst who shared my table at lunch. Then again, they don't necessarily need to.Instead of banking on revenue, Salesforce is banking on enabling its customers to build applications that can make use of Facebook's social networking engine. It's banking on the appeal of "cloudburst" computing, where a specific number-crunching job is sent off to the cloud, through a link to Amazon's EC2.

Salesforce's moves this week "enhance the value proposition of the Force.com platform," Ashley pointed out in a research note after the San Francisco conference. Force.com includes the point-and-click component development environment that Salesforce offers for augmenting its own applications. In adding ties to other cloud services, it is positioning itself as an instrument of future computing on the Web.

I can think of all sorts of Facebook-style applications that would help identify staff connections, expertise, and sought-after background experience that would help build virtual teams on short notice in the enterprise. You could build recruiting applications that would draw the right people in from outside. You could give employees the chance to proclaim their core competencies and interests, and test receptivity to them in an internal enterprise marketplace.

Salesforce is helping its customers get there early. And it's repositioning itself to supply either the applications they use, or the platform on which they build new applications. In doing so, it's blurring the lines of a software-as-a-service vendor. Does it matter who owns the application, provided the user built an application on your platform and is running it in your data center? Is that SAAS thinking or cloud thinking, or both?

Benioff is still proclaiming the death of on-premises software. But even that message is sounding a little dated.

If customers already are convinced they can run applications and manage data off premises, what's to stop them from improvising applications off premises, running them in the "cloud," connecting to customers and executing transactions, all without having a line of code running inside their own hallowed halls?

That may be the death of software inside the enterprise, but it's also the rebirth of software, by enterprise authors, in the cloud. We were just getting used to the catchphrase of software as a service when it became time to kill it off. SAAS may soon look like a transition phase, rather than a form of computing in its own right.

The software development platform as a service, the programmer workbench as a service where parts are assembled into a whole, the computing platform as a service, now that's beginning to sound like a composite picture of the cloud.

And Benioff is busily repositioning Salesforce to take advantage of this "rebirth of software," just in case it occurs.