Charles Zedlewski of SAP posts about salesforce.com's Apex on his blog. He questions whether the Apex programming language is a big deal. He writes that it is based on eight-year-old technology (Java and SQL), isn't in beta yet and is just another non-portable procedural language like SAP's ABAP. Charles writes: "I have nothing against Apex, but hearing leaders who average 25 years in the industry promptly ignore their own 25 years of experience leaves me scratching my head."
What Charles is missing, and what I pointed out in this post, is that Apex is just one piece of the picture. It is the combination of having a familiar Java/SQL language with an AppExchange marketplace and commmunity and a multi-tenant architecture. Forget about Marc Benioff's bluster about vanquishing Oracle and SAP and Microsoft. So far salesforce.com has shown signs that it can execute on its on demand strategy, and from the bottom up offer a platform alternative to the traditional enterprise players.
As I wrote in the post linked above, SAP has a similar initiative to build a developer platform and ecosystem around its NetWeaver platform. But salesforce.com with Apex isn't competing head-on with SAP or Oracle, but from the bottom up is changing the economics of the business, away from the model of long-term licenses and hefty maintenance fees. The same could be said of NetSuite and numerous other companies plowing the SaaS ground. NetWeaver is addressing the top of the pyramid, but the growth is happening below that top tier of corporations with huge IT budgets, which are largely applied to costly forklift upgrades of ERP applications.
Apex will have constraints that limit how much flexibility programmers will have, but the alternative is customization and upgrade chaos. Charles seriously doubts that salesforce.com will get many developers to sign up for the $20,000 AppExchange incubator seats at the former Siebel offices in San Mateo, CA. He may be right, but it's an innovative idea, and that sets salesforce.com apart from others vying for developers.
As former Oracle president and now venture capitalist Ray Lane has said, developers are looking for platforms that make it easy to iterate and innovate; don't require large capital investment; and have a sizeable addressable market. SaaS platforms qualify on the first two items, and technology buyers are beginning to sense that the economics of on demand computing, operating via the browser whether hosted or on premises, is an idea whose time has come. It has started at the edges with consumer apps, CRM and collaboration, and will gradually make its way deeper into the enterprise.