Feature Recast As A "Platform"

New offering attempts to draw in more developers and application customers. wants to be to on-demand software what iTunes is to digital music--a marketplace and delivery infrastructure for established players and entrepreneurs alike.

The vendor last week introduced Salesforce Platform Edition, which opens its AppExchange menu of third-party applications to customers that don't have Salesforce subscriptions. The goal is to give more developers incentive to write and host software offered through AppExchange and to get more business customers to use what's there.

Software company Appirio, for example, has developed a preadmission system for drug and alcohol treatment center company CRC Health that leverages Salesforce's workflow engines, calendar, and programming language. And Morgan Stanley uses software, written by a third-party developer and hosted on AppExchange, for recruiting, even though the brokerage firm doesn't subscribe to Salesforce's applications.

Vicon, which makes systems to measure 3-D movement, uses Scribe Software's Sales Order Component and Avendio's Quote Generator, both hosted by Salesforce. Some Vicon employees use Salesforce applications, others only those from Scribe or Avendio. "The whole platform approach and the ability to integrate more parts of a business through a Web-based approach is important to us," says Jason Hunter, Vicon's manager of support and service.

Salesforce Platform Edition comes in an Enterprise version that's priced at $50 per user each month. An Unlimited version, at $100 per user per month, includes a development environment and more storage.

Salesforce's challenge is to establish itself as a preferred place to develop and "rent" hosted software beyond its comfort zone in sales and CRM applications.

Getting developers to participate is key. Salesforce Platform Edition provides an outlet for developers that don't have the means to market or host software on their own. Startups can have their services run on Salesforce's servers on a per-user basis. "We want to democratize the software industry," says Ariel Kelman, Salesforce's senior director of platform product marketing. "Take a developer with limited resources in India or China. All they need to do is take an idea, develop it here, and market it on AppExchange, and essentially we'll send them checks."

The strategy is showing signs of success. An incubator program launched in January, which combines office space with Salesforce assistance in product development and marketing, has attracted 32 partners. Salesforce is opening the program to more companies.

The vendor also introduced Salesforce China Edition, a version of its CRM capabilities for companies that work in Simplified Chinese.