Marc Benioff: Google deal is aimed at a common enemy

Here at Dreamforce Europe, I asked Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff about the company’s agreement with Google, in which Salesforce becomes an OEM for Google Apps. We saw this demonstrated in the keynote. You can start a email via  Gmail from within a Salesforce contact. When sent – provided you click the Salesforce send button and not the Gmail send button – the email is added to the contact history. A similar feature lets you attach a Google document to a Salesforce record.

It’s a useful feature; but long term, will Salesforce.com and Google be competitors rather than partners? It is a natural question, since both companies are promoting their services as a platform for applications. Salesforce has the Apex programming language, while Google has its App Engine. According to Benioff, App Engine is primarily for Python developers, while Salesforce.com is a platform for enterprise applications. This struck me as downplaying Google’s likely ambitions in the enterprise market.

I therefore asked Benioff whether the agreement with Google included any non-compete element, or whether Google might be a future platform competitor. He did not answer my question, but said:

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

The identity of the enemy is unspecified; but given that Benioff used Microsoft .NET as the example of what his platform is supposedly replacing, and that Google docs competes with Microsoft Office, and that Benioff makes constant jibes at the complexity and expense of developing for Windows, I guess we can draw our own conclusions.

For sure, it did little to allay my suspicion that Salesforce.com and Google will not not always be as warm towards one another.

As an aside, there are ironies in Benioff’s characterization of .NET. Microsoft launched .NET as a “platform for web services”, which is exactly what Salesforce.com has become. Microsoft was a key driver behind the standardization and adoption of SOAP, which is the main protocol in the Salesforce.com API.

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