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Microsoft and Salesforce agree: You can't separate software from services

Once philosophical rivals, the two companies are converging on solving the same problems.

Parker Harris (center) of, gets grilled by Om Malik (left) and Michael Copeland. Rafe Needleman/CNET Networks

SAN FRANCISCO--In consecutive talks here at Structure 08, we just heard from big brains at and Microsoft on the topic of software vs. services. Surprisingly, these companies, which historically have espoused very different philosophies, are converging on a similar pitch: you can't build one with the other.

In Salesforce's case, co-founder and EVP Parker Harris said that early on, Salesforce's architects wanted to build a platform service for consumers, not just an application. But business logic prevailed: customers needed an application, not a platform.

"As a technologist, you want to build a platform, but you risk losing touch with what you're building it for," Harris said. "So when we started, we said we're going to build a service that's fast, simple, and right the first time."

And once Salesforce did expose its platform to developers, it found it couldn't think about its main app separately from this underlying architecture. "Software and infrastructure are not separate things. They're one thing."

Microsoft's Debra Chrapaty illustrates the point that Microsoft is a software-as-a-service company, too. Rafe Needleman/CNET Networks

For its part, Microsoft is no longer thinking only about applications. It continues to build apps with varying degrees of local and Web-based functionality, and because of that, Debra Chrapaty, vice president of global foundation services, keeps a close eye on the efficiency of apps. Because when scaled up into a data center, computational-efficiency matters.

The company needs to "make every kilowatt count," she said. Chrapaty also said that at least one of Microsoft's Virtual Earth servers, in Colorado, runs on wind power.

I find it curious that the two companies, Microsoft historically a pure software play, and Salesforce, a poster child for software as a service, are needing to solve the same problems today: building online applications and platforms that are reliable and open to their customers. And I especially liked that Microsoft is taking responsibility for the energy its apps use. I'd love to see that mindset spread through the industry.

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