A Moment to Confer

Technical conferences come and go, but some events change the way we think about the things that developers do. One of those turning points is three weeks away, and it won’t even cost you anything to attend.

If you were at the OOPSLA conference in 1988, you may remember Mitch Kapor’s keynote speech about the need for objects to graduate from modules to a marketplace. If you were at the first JavaOne in 1996, you may remember Scott McNealy’s prescient mantra, "The Web is under-hyped." You’ll soon have a chance to be present at another such moment: I don’t know who will say what, but I know it will be said at the first Salesforce Developer Conference on May 21.

What Mitch Kapor said the industry needed is arguably what’s now been built in the form of AppExchange. A developer with a great idea for adding a high-value function to a mainstream application can build it and sell it from a globally accessible storefront, where buyers can discuss it and try it and plug it into what they’re already using.

What Scott McNealy had in mind for Java — write once, run anywhere — is far more true of on-demand applications than it is of Java applets. I’ve heard people at Ernst & Young, for example, say that Java Virtual Machine compatibility issues make Java most suitable for internal use on client PCs with locked-down configurations. The on-demand model greatly reduces the risks of client chaos.

With last week’s release of the Salesforce Platform Edition, on-demand sheds any baggage of perception as being merely a set of extensions to one vendor’s application suite. In the same way that Microsoft first wrote applications like Word, then abstracted and productized its ideas about application improvement into the open-ended Windows platform, the underlying technologies of Salesforce SFA and Salesforce PRM and the like are now available to anyone who wants to deliver function instead of selling frozen bits in a box.

In eight and a half years, Microsoft went from Word 1.0 (for DOS!) to Windows 3.1 — and Salesforce.com, coincidentally, is now eight years old. Think about it.

Consider time, with apologies to Samuel R. Delany Jr., as a descending spiral of semi-dead technologies. In 1982, people were buying dozens and hundreds of perfectly good IBM PCs and putting coaxial-cable adapters in their motherboard slots for plug-compatible emulation of IBM 3278 terminals. You might now find it a challenge to track down one of those once-ubiquitous "Irma" cards: Attachmate, which acquired that product from original maker DCA, stopped selling them last year and refers inquiries to a dealer in "hard-to-find" equipment.

Within the professional lifetime of anyone getting started in IT today, designing and developing a new on-premise application will seem as quaint as deploying a new green-screen application would have seemed last year. The turning point is on May 21. Be there.

April 30, 2007