May the Force.com be with you. That's Salesforce.com's hope, as it launched Force.com, a hosted platform that enables users to create their own interfaces for applications developed with Salesforce's tools.
Announced at the company's Dreamforce 2007 conference currently taking place in San Francisco, Force.com adds a new interface tool called Visualforce to Salesforce's existing Apex platform. The resulting "platform as a service" provides a global infrastructure for database, logic, workflow, integration, application exchange, and now interface.
Apex was originally introduced as an on-demand, multitenant development environment in 2006. The company said that Force.com will be in full release in the second half of next year.
Apex Plus Visualforce
In the past, Salesforce.com has allowed customers to do database development, and the introduction of Apex allowed companies to run business logic. Force.com introduces Visualforce, which enables customizable control over the interface.
Force.com provides building blocks to create business applications, large or small, that can be deployed to "small teams or huge enterprises." If a variety of applications run within the same Salesforce instance, they can share a common security and data model, as well as the same user interface.
"Google, Amazon, and Apple have all shown that by revolutionizing a user interface you can revolutionize an industry," Salesforce CEO and chairman Marc Benioff said in a statement. Visualforce gives developers "the power to revolutionize any interface, and any industry, on demand."
Interfaces built with the new Visualforce are based on a page model, and incorporate HTML, AJAX, and Adobe's Flex. There is a component library for common interface elements and a controller model for governing interactions.
Interfaces and Applications
The components in the library can use existing Salesforce applications or can be tailored for unique experiences. The controller offers inherited and reusable behaviors from standard Salesforce apps, as well as the ability to create new behaviors using Apex Code.
Features include an on-demand operating system and database, a workflow engine for multi-user collaboration, the option to build complex logic structures through Apex, and a Web services API.
Acknowledging the realities of a multidevice business world, Force.com's interfaces and chosen application components can be designed to run on several devices besides desktop computers. These devices include iPhones, tablet PCs, BlackBerries, kiosks, and medical devices. According to Salesforce, Visualforce can automatically detect the device being used so developers can create an interface that would be most appropriate for a given device.
In addition to these features, the platform enables user interfaces and their application components to be used offline, an option that is giving rise to speculation by some observers that Salesforce's de facto, on-demand operating system could rival Windows for some uses.
Practicing what it preaches, the company showed an application it built using the Force.com platform. Called Ideas, it allows businesses to build communities that will post ideas and vote on them.