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Salesforce offers no-charge access to Force.com

Salesforce.com is hoping to drive more interest from corporate developers and indpendent software vendors in its Force.com development platform by offering limited, no-cost access, the on-demand customer relationship management vendor announced today.

Force.com Free Edition allows users to develop one custom application that can be deployed to up to 100 users. The offer also includes online training, sample applications and a testing environment.

Companies that want greater access can buy Force.com subscriptions, which start at $50 per user per month.

Salesforce.com is “keen for their development platform and tools to be positioned as an alternative to Java and [Microsoft] .NET,” said 451 Group analyst China Martens via e-mail. “This is an on-ramp for development, more about trying to achieve some ubiquity at present, rather than much monetization.”

Salesforce.com says Force.com is already enjoying significant momentum, with more than 110,000 custom applications developed on it. The vendor says its system helps companies develop applications faster than traditional toolkits.

To back that claim, Salesforce has been pointing to a recent report from Nucleus Research, which looked at 17 Force.com projects. Nucleus found that on average, developers surveyed could create applications 4.9 times faster with Force.com than Java or .NET.

This was made possible because the platform allows developers to quickly configure user interfaces and create custom workflows, and take advantage of prebuilt components, according to Nucleus' report.

In addition, Force.com applications are deployed into Salesforce.com's existing production environment, meaning programmers don't have to make decisions about databases, application servers and other aspects of the development stack, and can save time otherwise spent on testing, Nucleus said.

Of course, some developers may prefer greater flexibility and choice of components. In addition, like any development platform, once a company has invested time and effort in Force.com there would be costs involved in making a switch down the road, the Nucleus report noted.

Also today, Salesforce.com said its previously announced Force.com Sites service is now generally available. Customers can use Salesforce.com development tools to create Web sites for e-commerce, customer service and other purposes that run on the vendor's infrastructure and perhaps expose data from Force.com applications.

Customers who create sites under the Force.com Free Edition get up to 250,000 page views per month at no charge. Enterprise Edition users get 500,000 complimentary monthly views, and Unlimited Edition subscribers receive 1 million. Additional 1 million-page view blocks can be purchased for $1,000 per month.

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