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May 18, 2005updated 19 Aug 2016 10:11am

Salesforce.com vs. Microsoft Office? No Contest

You should never start an article, or even a blog entry, for that matter, with an apology. So I'm sorry to break that rule here, but I wanted to start by apologising that this entry is a little longer than I'm informed blogs should, in general, be.

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You should never start an article, or even a blog entry, for that matter, with an apology. So I’m sorry to break that rule here, but I wanted to start by apologising that this entry is a little longer than I’m informed blogs should, in general, be. So if you are pressed for time you may not want to trawl through this article. If you’re interested in salesforce.com, MS Office or the fact that some punters are saying salesforce.com will kill MS Office, then read on….

You see, I’ve become a little perplexed by a number of reports about media darlings salesforce.com. The company is unquestionably making hay in the on-demand CRM world while many of its historically client/server competitors flounder, and CEO Marc Benioff is undoubtedly rather good at sales and marketing. But although he used to report to Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, he’s no more God than Ellison is (you’ll remember perhaps the 1998 book by Mike Wilson, ‘The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison: God Doesn’t Think He’s Larry Ellison’).

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So I was somewhat bemused by a story last month on an IT news web site (that I see no particular reason to name here) that ran with the headline: "Salesforce.com: The MS Office Killer."

To understand the context of the article you need to know that salesforce.com successfully sells its CRM software in a hosted manner and charges monthly rental instead of upfront licensing fees, but you probably knew that already. What you might have missed is that at an ‘Integrationforce Day’ event last month, Benioff previewed what he described as a web-based, on-demand operating system called Multiforce. The news site that described Multiforce as an MS Office killer offered this analysis: "When salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff coined the company tagline ‘the end of software,’ he wasn’t kidding. He’s planning to eat Microsoft’s lunch."

So is Multiforce an MS Office killer? Salesforce.com says when Multiforce is launched this summer it will, "Allow salesforce subscribers to multi-task between multiple on-demand applications, all running in the same salesforce environment, with a single click…. Multiforce will extend the range of salesforce.com’s vision of on-demand computing from running CRM to powering all of a business’ on-demand applications written for the company’s platform."

That last bit’s the key: "all of a business’ on-demand applications written for the company’s platform". Multiforce is unlikely then to enable you to switch between your salesforce.com and existing, bespoke, homegrown applications in the same environment. The applications running on Multiforce will share the same salesforce.com data repository, remember. It’s also unlikely to enable you to switch between your salesforce.com and Oracle, SAP or SSA Global applications in the same environment. Or, for that matter, enable you to switch between a Microsoft-style productivity suite and salesforce.com applications in the same environment.

What Multiforce will enable companies to do is switch between salesforce.com and other hosted applications, as long as they have been built by salesforce.com customers or partners, for the sforce platform, and with salesforce.com’s Customforce development tool. Those are some rather large caveats if this was really going to compete with MS Office, which it clearly isn’t.

Multiforce is not a hosted version of a suite of personal productivity applications like MS Office. Even if a salesforce.com partner tried to write one for the Multiforce environment, it would be tricky when they are limited to using the Customforce development tool – fine no doubt for building on-demand applications, but not quite what Microsoft’s developers will turn to when building the next version of Office.

Microsoft isn’t about to give salesforce.com the ability to bring Office into the Multiforce environment, not least because it already competes with salesforce.com in CRM applications. Anyway even if it did it wouldn’t kill Office, but extend its reach.

Could salesforce.com bring something like Sun StarOffice into the Multiforce environment, and go up against MS Office? Potentially, but there’s no reason more people would choose StarOffice on Multiforce than they would choose it standalone – and it’s not exactly denying Microsoft sleep just yet as a standalone proposition – because Multiforce will only be attractive to salesforce.com customers, not the far broader market for Microsoft Office. Besides, if you want to access Microsoft Office applications in an on-demand manner you can do that perfectly well already using something like Citrix’s Presentation Server.

Benioff is quoted in the article in question as saying, "We don’t do applications like Word or Excel… but there are elements of Microsoft Office, like SQL Server, that we want to replace." Salesforce.com wants to replace SQL Server in every situation it is used as a CRM tool. It also wants to win Microsoft CRM customers and deny it CRM prospects. But Multiforce isn’t Benioff’s attempt to compete with Office. He hasn’t got round to that just yet. Though knowing his ambition, that day will come eventually.

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