Salesforce.com has signalled a major change in strategy with the announcement of application development tools that will help users to hone and customise its on-demand customer relationship management applications.
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Salesforce.com applications are hosted centrally and accessed via a browser. Users pay monthly or yearly contracts based on usage. Although the software works when users are running applications without modification, it has not been able to cope with customisation.
At its Dreamforce user conference earlier this month, the supplier said the Apex development tool, scheduled for beta availability in the first quarter of 2007, would support custom development.
In the past, application customisation had to be written in a language such as Ajax and run on an external platform, connecting to Salesforce.com through application programming interface calls. Apex allows users to write custom code that is compiled and run directly on the Salesforce.com hosted infrastructure.
Denis Pombriant, founder of analyst firm Beagle Research, said, "Apex will provide the missing piece that on-demand needed to be fully competitive with traditional application development."
Robert Bois, research director at AMR Research, said, "The real magic in Apex is that users will still be able to take quarterly upgrades of the CRM product, and all customisations will work in the new version without any recoding.
The biggest question, according to Bois, is whether Salesforce can continue to balance between building such additional software services and remaining attentive to the core hosted CRM users responsible for its success.