Is's Apex just another procedural language?

Is's Apex just another procedural language?

Summary: Charles Zedlewski of SAP posts about's Apex on his blog.


Charles Zedlewski of SAP posts about'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 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 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 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 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.


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  • Easy to innovate?

    "developers are looking for platforms that make it easy to iterate and innovate; "

    Unfortunately innovation is actually rare and extremely hard work. Also it only runs on one platform - the brain.

    To sell the idea that you have a platform that can make it easy to innovate is selling snake oil.

    And iteration, that's hunt and peck programming isn't it? You won't do anything innovative working like that.

    And to answer the question, yes Apex is just another procedural language and about as innovative as a flint axehead.
    • Not quite entirely procedural

      The SQL part is of course somewhat declarative (but not nearly as declarative as properly relational language would be).

      The Java part is pure procedural of course.

      "Innovation" in the software industry is just recycling the same stuff on different platforms.
  • Depends on the definition of "innovation"...

    I think he's using Paul Murphy's definition...

    Obviously there's no science, engineering, or mathematics involved in innovation. It's all about an intern hacking together whatever some manager says.

    God forbid we create something that actually works. We'd all lose our jobs because no one would want to touch it after it was running.
    Erik Engbrecht
  • A 4GL in the sky

    Right on Dan. If you just look at the technology from a pure programming perspective it's a 4GL environment rather like the ones we had back in the 90s - high-level access to DBMS resources, transactions, high level UI framework, etc...

    But it's a *4GL in the sky*. This is exciting because Salesforce is trying to do things differently.
  • Not really a relevant question

    What difference does it make if Apex is a procedural language or not? Did the world suddenly start revolving about functional programming while I was at lunch? Good thing I still sort of remember Scheme!

    All joking aside, the big problem is the idea that SaaS promotes "innovation". Bah. That is patently false and sounds suspiciously like some pap that Gartner said. Of course, you guys did just get back from the Gartner love fest, so this isn't surprising.

    SaaS does not promote "innovation." Programming languages do not promote "innovation." Having the right combination of passionate people doing the work and managers who enable and empower them to act on that passion promotes "innovation."


    Let's be real: most of the truly innovative and important applications are written in C/C++. It doesn't get much more "procedural" and "bland" and "boring" and "unsexy" than that. There is nothing glamorous about C/C++, nothing rock star about it.

    Ever see a programmer with an expense account? Neither have I. Maybe you guys should start talking to people without expense accounts and without clean shirts and without stock options and without BMWs to find out what programmers need, not C-level executives and Gartner VPs.

    Justin James