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The move to host applications built using the Apex development environment expands Salesforce's bid to become an on-demand services company. said Monday it will offer its Apex programming language to customers and business partners for building on-demand applications that run on Salesforce's multitenant service platform.

The move, officially announced at the vendor's Dreamforce user conference in San Francisco, is Salesforce's biggest step yet in its effort to expand beyond its original role as a supplier of hosted CRM applications to a provider of broad, on-demand application services.

Developers can use the Apex language to build applications and software components of any type--not just applications associated with CRM--and have Salesforce store and run them on its service platform, also called Apex, for a fee. While some 400 on-demand applications developed by third-party vendors are available through Salesforce's AppExchange, those applications only run in conjunction with Salesforce's on-demand apps.

Apex's value proposition is that businesses don't have to expend time and money maintaining IT infrastructure, including hardware and infrastructure software such as databases and application servers, instead devoting IT resources to developing innovative applications, says Kendall Collins, Salesforce's senior marketing VP.

A recent Gartner report predicted that on-demand applications, which accounted for just 5% of all spending for business software last year, will capture 25% of such spending by 2011.

Salesforce describes the Apex development technology, which the company uses internally, as a "Java-like" programming language. Apps built using the language can be made available as a Web service and accessed using XML and SOAP standards. Businesses will also be able to use the Apex language to customize core features and functions of Salesforce's on-demand applications, the company says, or build their own add-on components. Applications developed with Apex can also be shared through the AppExchange directory.

Salesforce is building elements of the Apex platform for running Apex-built apps into the Winter '07 release of its services, which is due by year's end. They include a data relationships API for accessing and managing complex data relationships, real-time messaging and integration for notifying other applications or middleware of business events in Salesforce, and an Ajax toolkit for linking Salesforce applications in "application mash-ups" with other systems such as Google Maps. The vendor plans to make a version of the platform available for free to developers.

But the Apex programming language itself won't be available until sometime in the first half of next year. And Collins says Salesforce hasn't determined yet how--and how much--it will charge customers to run apps built using Apex.

Salesforce also announced plans to establish the AppExchange Central business incubator, a facility in San Mateo, Calif., where startup companies building applications for AppExchange can rent space and have access to Salesforce expertise and other technical resources.

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