Salesforce Opens Platform To Web, Social Networking

Speaking at the opening of the DreamForce 2008 conference in San Francisco, Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff announced Sites, an offering that lets customers run their Web sites, intranets, portals, and Web applications in Salesforce's cloud.

Benioff described Sites as "a great extension to our platform," and noted that Salesforce customers have developed around 85,000 custom built applications on the Salesforce platform to date.

"This should be as much of a transformation for your company as was when you initially brought it in," Benioff said. Sites is now available as a developer preview, and Salesforce plans to make it generally available sometime in 2009.

Despite the popularity of social networking, the technology has yet to be embraced by businesses, and some companies even view Facebook as a drain on productivity. But that, too, is changing, according to Benioff, who brought Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg onstage to explain the details of the new Salesforce-Facebook partnership.

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Salesforce developers will have expanded access to Facebook APIs, giving them the ability to create on demand apps to reach Facebook's rapidly growing audience, which has swelled to 120 million users, including 30 million users since July, according to Sandberg.

As more businesses look to find ways to use Facebook within the scope of their operations, opportunities for developers to build customized productivity and enterprise applications are on the rise, said Sandberg. "We believe there's a real need for this," she said.

Benioff hailed Microsoft's announcement last week of its own cloud based operating system, Windows Azure, as proof of the trend toward platforms moving to the cloud. However, in a move that was about as surprising as the sun rising in the east, Benioff couldn't resist taking a few shots at the software giant.

"Somehow [Windows Azure is] going to work better than Vista, we don't exactly know," Benioff joked.

Later, Benioff said Sites provides a much needed alternative for developers building custom applications using Microsoft's budding collaboration platform. "A lot of you are building Sharepoint and other apps, and all kinds of other terrible stuff I don't want to mention. Honestly, I was worried for you," Benioff said.

Salesforce is on track to pull in $1 billion in revenue for the first time in its history, but Salesforce CFO Graham Smith last month alluded to a possible looming price war in the SaaS space. NetSuite last month launched a campaign to attract Salesforce customers with discounts in exchange for dumping Salesforce.