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Salesforce Preps Mashup-Friendly Custom UI Tools

Salesforce.com (NASDAQ: CRM) yesterday detailed more of its plans to make it easier for users and developers to customize and enhance their Salesforce and Force.com applications, courtesy of two elements of its upcoming Visualforce user interface release.

Visualforce is designed as a simplified way for Salesforce and Force.com application users to tweak, mashup or create a specialized UI for their apps without complex coding.

While Salesforce had been talking up Visualforce since autumn, the technology had previously only been available to users on a trial basis.

That will change when the feature ships as part of Salesforce's Summer '08 update in June, the company said yesterday during its Dreamforce Europe user conference in London.

The company also said the UI would be made available to customers as a service, and that it incorporates a feature called Visualforce Components, which enables users to add, remove and reassemble pre-made portions of the UI.

In addition to simplifying UI design, Visualforce also will enable users to extend their custom apps to virtually any device, the company said.

"The user interface is where the rubber meets the road," Ariel Kelman, Salesforce.com's senior director of platform product marketing, told InternetNews.com. "CIOs are under tremendous pressure from the end user because at home, people are using very sophisticated but easy-to-use applications on the Web, but they come back to work and have to use applications like Oracle Financials or SAP supply chain that are very difficult to use."

"They want to give their business users applications as easy to use as SalesForce.com," he said.

For instance, Visualforce will enable users to create UIs to enhance standard Salesforce SaaS applications, or to create wholly custom applications running on its Force.com platform-as-a-service (PaaS).

"We had CIOs asking why all their applications can't be as easy to manage and run as Salesforce's CRM applications, and with Force.com, we're providing them this," Kelman said.

In addition to design definitions and components, Visualforce's features also include Apex controllers, which let Visualforce developers build any UI behavior using the Java-like Apex programming language, which Salesforce first introduced in October 2006.

Another feature in the upcoming Visualforce release is static resources, which let developers create, reference and manage the assets used to create UIs. These static resources include images, style sheets, JavaScript libraries and other Web page components.

Salesforce also said the release will offer inline page and controller editing, enabling users to edit Visualforce pages and Apex controllers directly from the runtime view of any page.

Visualforce "gives its users pixel-level control to build any application," Kelman said, adding that "more than 4,000 developers have created 11,000 custom interfaces" since Visualforce was released to the development community in November.

While Visualforce is designed to be simple to use, Salesforce said its components can enable users and independent software vendors (ISVs) to quickly build in a great deal of complex functionality.

The company said the service will include a library of more than 50 Visualforce Components, enabling custom apps to add features including navigation, mash-ups, data entry forms, mobile device components and calendars.

Users can also incorporate data and logic from external systems such as interactive charts and other data visualizations. In addition, developers can use the Apex Code programming language to add information from external applications -- supporting mashups with apps that don't run on Force.com.

They also can use cascading style sheets, or CSS, to ensure their applications look and function similarly to their other on-demand apps.