The Force.com Platform Today

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The Force.com Platform Today

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Salesforce applications are used by nearly 60,000 businesses.  Those business run more than 100,000 Salesforce applications and those applications have over 1.5 million users.    DZone recently conducted an exclusive interview with Al Falcione, the Senior Director of Marketing at Salesforce, to see what developers are now capable of building on the Force.com platform.  When Salesforce was founded ten years ago, their developers built Salesforce applications using the same tools that are now available to anyone on Force.com.  Falcione says, "It was about three years ago that we popped the top off of our platform and said, 'Hey, lets let other developers go in and use it.'"  Today, Salesforce is one of the most successful cloud platforms for web development and now has social tool capabilities with its recently added Chatter platform.  

The Force.com platform allows developers to customize a database, build a UI, create their own logic and workflow, and put applications onto a mobile device if they want.  "You can develop 80% of your app using a point-and-click environment," said Falcione.  "If you want to develop more complex, custom logic, you can use our code to do that.  Our code is very similar to Java.  People who know Java can go and write on Force.com"  Force.com's IDE runs on the popular Eclipse platform, so it's a very recognizable environment.  Falcione says many of the components for applications already provided on Force.com, making development faster and cheaper.  A developer can decide what information they want to track, how they will present that information in the UI, and what logic they want to create.  

There are many other cloud development environments available like GAE and Amazon, but Falcione says these other clouds are not competitors.  "What we're doing is very different from what Amazon is doing and what Google is doing with App Engine," said Falcione.  "The big difference is that we are completely focused on the enterprise application development market."  The components on Force.com are ones that enterprises need, he says.  These components include point-and-click workflow, approvals (such as discounts on sales deals), analytics, and an integrated content library to manage files in application building.  "We know business need these components," said Falcione.  "They use them over and over again. The components make it easier to build applications for the enterprise.  We've seen our developers build over 135,000 custom applications to date."

Since the announcement of Salesforce Chatter, developers have been able to do even more on Force.com.  It's both an application for enterprise collaboration and a platform for developers to build new enterprise social applications.  Salesforce sees social tools like groups, feeds, and status updates as important to enterprise collaboration.  Chatter is a third layer of infrastructure on top of the Force.com platform and the Force.com cloud infrastructure.

Falcione sees three categories of applications that can be built on Chatter: 

Customer Relations Management (CRM) add-on applications
Falcione says a connect-the-dots application for salespeople working on an account is one application idea for developers to try.  The application could go find people who have worked at the target company by looking at the Chatter profiles.  It would bring all the profile information right to the salesperson.

Project management applications
Chatter can be used to build portals to see what people are working on and collaborate.  Falcione says, "If I'm building a project management application, I may want to put status updates and groups in that application.  Groups is a feature that a developer could use to instantly add a group capability so users can go and create their own groups."  Like Twitter, workers in a project management environment could provide status updates on their work.

Extensions to existing applications
Developers don't need to start from scratch with an original idea.  They can add on to a solid application that someone else built.  Falcione says many developers have built recruiting applications to manage the recruiting process.  These applications can manage job description, compensation, resumes, and jobs available.  With Chatter, you can add social capabilities to that application by adding candidate profile information, groups, and feed notifications for resumes.

Falcione says one of the best features of Chatter is the open set of APIs.  The can, for example, take information from other applications and integrate it into a Chatter feed.  A project management application could read feeds from other applications, like a budget application and alert stakeholders when it crosses a certain threshold, such as being over budget.  Falcione says it helps create better ways of working across a company with a set of applications all in one place, working together.

To develop for Force.com, Falcione says you just need to go to Force.com and sign up for the product and start building applications right away.  The cloud architecture is readily available and he says the first app deployment is free.  You can also find training courses for more advanced developers who want greater customization. 

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