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Microsoft, Salesforce CEOs reveal tighter ties between sometime rivals

The deal means Salesforce's customer-management apps will be available for Windows and Windows Phone.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (l) and Salesforce CEO Mark Marc Benioff Salesforce

In the movie "The Godfather," there's no dearth of preaching about how the rival Mafia clans are motivated by business, not personal animus. But in the aftermath of a collaboration announced Thursday by Microsoft and enterprise company, it's reasonable to ask whether that particular bit of pop-culture wisdom got flipped on its head.

The agreement calls for the longtime rivals to work on ways that will make it easier for users of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Phone operating systems, as well as Office 365, to connect to Salesforce's customer-relations management applications and platform. That was basically the gist as the companies are keeping things purposely vague at this early juncture in their new partnership.

A spokesperson for Microsoft said that both companies are committing money as well people to the deal. Also, a preview product is expected to be available in fall 2014 and general availability is slated for sometime in the following year. Neither Microsoft nor Salesforce had further comment.

Salesforce's outgoing CEO Marc Benioff, as media-savvy as they come in the tech business, has built a reputation as an upstart willing to challenge the big software companies that populated the terrain -- Microsoft being a chief target.

In a January interview, Benioff didn't have much nice to say about Microsoft: "They're a follower, not a leader. They continue just to follow." He said in the same piece that Microsoft has failed to evolve and needed to "push the reset button on vision. The whole concept of Windows everywhere was a really interesting mantra 20 years ago, but it doesn't work today, and it's led them down some very dark paths to products that are not any good."

On another occasion, Benioff dismissed the potential of Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform, quipping that Microsoft has tablets and mobile phones, too. "They have a lot of them somewhere in a warehouse...but they've lost their relevancy," he said. "Windows 8 is coming and it's a big 'who cares?'"

But as he sat across from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to announce their collaboration on a conference call, Benioff offered a very different appraisal:

"I really believe that relationships are eternal. And it's the technology itself that is temporal. I started working with with Microsoft in the mid-1980s and our relationship of course as changed and evolved as the technology has evolved and changed over decades. Today we're announcing a very important interchange between our technologies. First and foremost when we acquired ExactTarget (marketing cloud), we acquired a stronger relationship with Microsoft. That changed. And when Satya became became the CEO of Microsoft. That gave us the opportunity for us to have an stronger relationship with Microsoft. And that changed...I couldn't be happier. I've always wanted to have a closer relationship with Microsoft and now we do."

Nadella, just the third CEO in Microsoft's history, has been exceptionally active during his first 100 days. In fact, a newly-issued report from Forrester described him as "a change agent" who is is fast putting Microsoft on a different path. Before the hookup with Salesforce, Microsoft made news by announced a native Office app for Apple's iPad. At the same time, Nadella sketched out his plans to help developers work on a "multi-platform Office" that's no longer shackled to Windows.

But there still remain questions about how Microsoft can sign up more customers for Windows 8 within enterprises. The same goes for its cloud computing offerings. For what it's worth, Benioff cooed about the work Microsoft is doing in Azure, noting that "it's something we're starting to use more of at Salesforce...Microsoft is doing more of the right things to encourage its customers to move to the cloud."

Other details released today included the following:

  • A preview of Salesforce1 for Windows and Windows Phone 8.1. will be available this 2014 with full availability in 2015.
  • Salesforce for Office 365 interoperability that lets users "access, share, edit and collaborate on Office content from within Salesforce and on Salesforce1 using Office Mobile, Office for iPad and Office 365."
  • Salesforce will develop an app for Outlook Integration that connects Salesforce data to Excel and Microsoft's Power BI for Office 365.