CRM software supplier Salesforce.com has announced a hosted application development service that makes web services technology and widely used tools such as Microsoft's Visual Studio .net available to software developers via the internet.
Salesforce.com chief executive officer Marc Benioff said users of the Sforce offering will also be able to access databases, a document management system and user authentication services without having to invest in or maintain any software themselves.
Salesforce.com will support Sforce users with the same IT infrastructure that is used to run its hosted online applications.
Sforce can be used to build homegrown systems or to customise Salesforce.com's applications and integrate them with third-party products, Benioff said.
Monthly fees are $50 (£30) per user and $1 (60p) for each megabyte of data stored at Salesforce.com's datacentre, although the first three users and 10Mbytes are free for a year.
Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and BEA Systems have agreed to support Sforce with their development tools and Salesforce.com said a similar deal is in the pipeline with Borland Software.
Sforce also incorporates XML and web services standards like the Simple Object Access Protocol and the Web Services Description Language.
Sheldon Tkatch, a senior project manager at Garrett Aviation Service Centers, a provider of airplane maintenance and modification services uses Salesforce.com's applications, and Tkatch said he wants to tie them to Garrett's Oracle customer database.
Linking exisitng customer data to the hosted applications is a time-consuming process that requires end-users at Garrett to extract the information in batches or reports and then enter it manually. Doing the necessary integration work in-house would be "technologically prohibitive", but that process looks more feasible with Sforce, he said.
Wendy Close, an analyst at Gartner, said Sforce targets application developers with the software-as-a-service concept. The service will most likely appeal to large companies that need more functionality than Salesforce.com's applications provide, she said.
But Close added that she is not sure how much buy-in Sforce will get at first, outside of companies that plan to use Salesforce.com's applications.
Marc L Songini writes for Computerworld