Salesforce plans on-demand language, service

Apex, a new service for building general purpose business programs, challenges Oracle and Microsoft. is planning to launch a new service for on-demand applications, marking its boldest step yet into direct competition with Oracle and Microsoft.

At its annual user conference on Monday, the company will announce Apex, a new Java-like programming language along with back-end services for building on-demand business applications that run atop Saleforce's hosted infrastructure.

Apex, in conjunction with back-end database and workflow services, is intended as a business computing platform--meaning it's aimed directly at software and services from Oracle, Microsoft, SAP and other companies.

"Apex is the catalyst for bringing on-demand to every enterprise application," said Adam Gross, director of product marketing at Salesforce. "This has the potential to be a huge expansion for"

The move greatly expands the company's reach into businesses, where it is attempting to move beyond its customer relationship management roots to become an all-purpose computing infrastructure provider. In the process, it counters from Oracle and SAP arguments that software-as-a-service offerings like Salesforce aren't suitable for large companies that need highly customizable systems, said Rob Bois, an analyst with AMR Research in Boston.

"SAP and Oracle will have a lot more trouble explaining why software-as-a-service isn't ready for the enterprise. This takes one of those objections off of the table, and eliminates the entire objection that you can't do custom coding," said Bois.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff will introduce Apex on Monday at the company's user conference in San Francisco, said Gross.

Gross said Salesforce also hopes to recruit independent software vendors (ISVs) to build applications that run on the Apex infrastructure. He said some of those partners will be revealed on Monday.

In many ways, the strategy mirrors that of Microsoft when it comes to on-demand services, said Bois.

"It's not that dramatically different from Microsoft's strategy, except that Microsoft is doing it by selling licensed software. They have CRM (customer relationship management), and tools and portal software, and they want to build an ISV base to build apps and add-ons.

"Salesforce is all on-demand. They will argue that will be cheaper and faster since there is no hardware involved. This will only serve to accelerate's partner program," Bois said.

Apex will be available in the first half of next year, Gross said. No pricing has been disclosed.

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