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Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) is taking charge of the Google Office. While the search giant has trickled out individual pieces of office-suite functionality, it’s pretty much let them languish as beta offerings. Now, Salesforce.com, the provider of on-demand applications and a sort of “business-app dial tone,” will act as the integrator.

At its Dreamforce users conference today, the company announced Apex, a new kind of programming language: an on-demand, multi-tenant language and platform that will let users reprogram all aspects of the basic Salesforce service, and to write new components from scratch.

They’ll be able to embed mashups in any page of the application, on-demand spreadsheets and mail. The current mash-ups let salesforce.com users launch Skype calls or access Google Maps from within the application.

During his Dreamforce keynote, Benioff continued his shilling for Google, pointing out that Google’s Gmail for your domain and Yahoo Business Email made changes to their “business web” capabilities so that people can run business email on their platforms. Benioff showcased the “office suite” apps including Zimbra, Num Sum, iRows, Writely, iNetWord, etc.

In other words, they’ll be able to pull in Writely et al. and use them within the Salesforce application.

In case anyone in the audience missed this, Benioff asked how many people in the audience had seen Google Spreadsheets. Only a few raised their hands, so Benioff gave a demo! He’s also been trying to convince enterprises including GE to convert from Microsoft Office to Google’s online apps.

Letting users hook into online office applications, whether from Google or other web 2.0 vendors, removes a huge barrier to business adoption. Customers who already are comfortable with Salesforce.com can view Writely as an extension of the familiar service and begin using it without having to convince the IT department to switch from the Windows standards.

The Apex platform, scheduled to go live with Winter ‘07 in the fourth quarter of 2006, will let customers use a data relationships API, integrate messaging, and use enhanced capabilities within the Ajax Toolkit. (The Apex language is scheduled for the first half of 2007.)

Customers will be able to write applications to run natively on the service — operating systems, databases, application and web servers, data centers or any other infrastructure. (Of course, they’ll still need an operating system, etc. in order to access the web-based Apex itself.)

But Apex also could position Salesforce.com to take on the role of “web operating system.”

Dreamforce Update: It’s official. Apex is “a multi-tenant, on-demand OS.”

Today, at the Dreamforce users conference, Benioff laid out his complete Microsoft-killing plan: Salesforce.com is the web-based version of Microsoft Windows; web 2.0 startups can compete with Google for a role in the web Office; AppExchange vendors will provide advanced, Office-like applications for messaging, collaboration, etc. And Salesforce.com, of course, can provide the Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Salesforce.com is taking on the role Google was reluctant to play: providing an operating system/interface that lets business users tie all these disparate applications together, via its new Apex programming language. The new Salesforce.com desktop, going live in the fourth quarter, will let users create mash-ups using these highly mashable web 2.0 apps.

This is an extremely significant achievement. That’s not to say that it’s a slam-dunk.
During his Dreamforce keynote, Benioff asked for a show of hands of how many customers had visited the AppExchange, the source for third-party applications to be used along with the basic Salesforce.com service. Only about a quarter of the 5,000 attendees had looked at AppExchange; only a fraction of AppExchange users are likely to play around with mash-ups.

Moreover, Benioff quoted Gartner as saying that by 2011, 25 percent of new business software will be delivered via software-as-a-service. In six years, just one quarter of *new* software will be on-demand. That leaves an awful lot of room for Windows.

Disclosure: Author has no position in stocks mentioned

Source: Salesforce.com's Apex Uses Google Office to Challenge Microsoft