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Salesforce no Rival to SharePoint, Lotus Notes

Should rivals be worried about Salesforce.com's move into Web site creation and hosting? Analysts are saying the news is no threat to established players like Lotus Notes and SharePoint.

Salesforce.com announced the new direction at its Dreamforce 2008 user conference this week. And CEO Marc Benioff took a cue from his former boss Larry Ellison and trash-talked its soon-to-be Web hosting competition, namely Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and IBM (NYSE: IBM).

"Why are you using Notes and .NET and SQL Server and SharePoint to deliver Web sites when you can use our sites?" he asked his audience during a keynote speech. "Now you can run all your Web applications, Web sites, intranets, and portals on the Web in our cloud, and can reach everyone on the Web, not just your customers and vendors and partners."

Benioff said customers can build a Force.com application, design their Web interface in Visual Force, and set up their Web site easily in Salesforce.com. The site will include Web pages, self registration, domain and URL management, RSS and content syndication.

For example, Harrah's casino in Las Vegas, has more than 1,000 hosts, each with a personal Website, all running on the Force.com platform, Parker Harris, Salesforce.com's co-founder and executive vice president of technology, told the audience at Dreamforce. Customers interact directly with the hosts.

That is not good enough for Rob Enderle, principal analyst at research firm Enderle Group. He told InternetNews.com that the strength of Notes and SharePoint lies in the fact that they are much more of collaborative tools than Salesforce.com.

"Collaboration isn't something you do tool by tool where every primary tool has its own collaboration product, you would typically deploy one collaboration product as a generic product," he added.

Variety is the spice of life

Companies that primarily use Salesforce.com may rely less on SharePoint teamsites and portal capabilities, Mark Levitt, vice president, collaboration and Enterprise 2.0 strategies at IDC, told InternetNews.com by e-mail.

However, Salesforce.com's limited functionalities will likely fall short of meeting users' messaging and collaboration needs, so it will not be a replacement for either Notes or SharePoint, Levitt added. "Most users and their IT departments will want to keep other tools like Microsoft SharePoint available for use as well," Levitt said.

Microsoft's e-mailed response is that its approach of offering SharePoint as a hosted or on-premise application is a better way to meet customers' needs. Called software plus services, this approach was outlined by CEO Steve Ballmer earlier this year.

"Software plus services enables partners and customers to deliver desktop software, services in the cloud or a combination of the two, whichever best meets their business demands" a Microsoft spokesperson told InternetNews.com by e-mail. "Whereas Salesforce.com offers its solutions on a services basis only, Microsoft believes that software plus services is the best approach because of its flexibility."

Jim Till, chief marketing officer of enterprise content management (ECM) vendor Xythos, has his doubts about SharePoint. "We're intimately familiar with SharePoint, and it's a matter of interpretation as to whether it's a Web ready solution right now," he told InternetNews.com.

"There's a market in allowing customers to use the Salesforce.com platform to leverage and share documents," Till, whose company offers ECM both hosted and on premise, said. He added that Microsoft's relatively slow response to the Web has left the field open for other players, including Salesforce.com and Xythos.

However, Enderle is not convinced that Salesforce.com has an acceptable collaboration tool. "This reminds me of the guy that makes screwdrivers getting a hammer order and making a screwdriver with a bigger handle so people could use it to pound in nails," he said.