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Salesforce.com Offers Developer Preview of Apex

Salesforce.com released a developer preview version of its Apex Code programming language this week, and announced that it has made its Apex on-demand platform generally available.

The company's CEO, Marc Benioff, made the announcement at the Salesforce Apex Day event in San Francisco on Tuesday. He told attendees that his company had distributed the Apex platform to all 556,000 users of its on-demand CRM service over the long holiday weekend with the latest Winter '07 upgrade.

The preview release of Apex Code is available now. Salesforce.com expects to provide a beta release later this year.

Announced last October as "Apex," Apex Code is a Java-like programming language designed to allow developers to write code that runs on the salesforce.com servers, with no additional infrastructure requirements—essentially, to develop apps and features deployed entirely on demand. Applications built with Apex Code are supported by the salesforce.com multi-tenant environment, eliminating the need for operating systems, databases, app and Web servers, data centers, or other infrastructure software, the company says.

Though similar syntactically to Java, Apex Code is also reminiscent of a data-definition language, such as PLSQL, explains industry analyst John R. Rymer, vice president at Forrester Research. "You wouldn't use it to do things like describing a process flow, or to a build a Web site or a desktop app," he says. "That's not what it's for. It's for defining data structures and logic that operates against those data structures."

Apex Code is designed to allow developers to customize the core features and functionality of their salesforce.com deployments for their unique business requirements. They can reprogram any salesforce.com component such as Campaigns, Cases or Opportunities, or build entirely new components from scratch. They can add transactional features to their applications that are bound to salesforce.com data.

Apex Code can also be packaged alongside custom objects, S-controls, and other platform features, allowing developers to redistribute their Apex-enhanced apps via salesforce's AppExchange application marketplace.

George Hu, the company's chief marketing officer, brought several partners to the stage to demo salesforce.com apps customized for vertical markets. Media consultancy Bluewolf Group, for example, showed off its MediaTrak service for managing relationships with media firms. That application will be listed on the AppExchange, said Bluewolf marketing VP Corinne Sklar. To date, more than 500 firms have applications listed on AppExchange, according to salesforce.com.

"We want the killer app for salesforce.com to come from a third party," Benioff said during a post-keynote lunch with reporters and analysts. "We think it's better to aggregate the whole industry and go at it as a team than go it alone."

Salesforce is describing the Apex platform as "a complete platform for development as a service." The platform comes with a new Web services API and real-time messaging and integration capabilities. It supports embedded mashups, analytics, mobility, workflow, and approvals. Benioff said that his company hopes Apex will transform Salesforce into a full-fledged application development platform. "Windows became a platform, and DOS went away," he said. "We see some parallels."

However, Forrester's Rymer suggests that "platform" might not be the most accurate descriptor. "They are providing a basis for derivative works and new applications," he says, "but don't think of this as a platform in the classic sense. This is a much more constrained environment. It's much more like an application you customize."

Benioff also disclosed that his company has signed a contract with Dell for 15,000 subscribers to its on-demand service. It took the company seven years, Benioff said, to land its other big customers, Cisco, which signed up last year for the same number of seats. It took the company one more year to land the Dell account.

"That's a testament to the momentum of software as a service," Benioff said.

In addition, Salesforce announced new Apex developer toolkits for AJAX and Eclipse, along with a new Wiki-based developer site known as the Apex Developer Network (ADN), around which the company hopes to grow a community of Apex Code developers.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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