News Courting Developers with Apex's Peter Coffee discusses the new Apex language and its potential effects in the development space. Inc. CEO Marc Benioff has long made his disdain for Microsoft clear, saying Redmond has been slow to realize the future of software lies in services on demand.

Now Benioff's company, long known for its hosted CRM, is trying to transform itself into a full-fledged development ecosystem through the introduction of Apex, a Java-like programming language and platform now in beta form. Programs created with the platform can be packaged as a Web service, and hosted and shared with other subscribers through the company's AppExchange.

The introduction of Apex raises the stakes between and Microsoft's Live initiatives in the Software as a Service space (which Microsoft has termed "Software Plus Services").

Benioff has some basis for his bluster. has a longer track record in this area than Microsoft. Also, at press time was thought to be forming closer ties to Google Inc., which is also making overtures to both businesses and developers through its hosted productivity apps and related tools.

Peter Coffee,'s director of platform research and a longtime former columnist, is tasked with evangelizing Apex to developers. He recently spoke with RDN.

What does Apex possibly mean for RDN's audience?
What we want people to do is think about where it makes sense to use the scarce resources of developer talent. You can go to a lot of trouble to choose the elements of an application development stack, write code and then push out that code ... or you can take that same talent and energy and go into our environment, where the infrastructure is taken care of.

.NET shops can already get hooks into But Apex is a whole new language, and Java-based. How hard is it to learn?
I'd have thought that most .NET developers would've learned to read C# well enough to know what it's doing, even if they mostly write VB. C#, of course, looks a lot like Java, which in turn was designed to be easily learned by coders familiar with C++ and C, so I'd expect that most people writing code today would be able to read Apex code almost on sight.

As for writing Apex code, the VB developers might need a little time to train their fingers for curly-bracket pairs, but the move from VB to VB.NET has already taken them across the key conceptual jumps. arguably has the experience edge in delivering services, but Microsoft is known for its development tools. Is it your intent to develop tools and frameworks on par with something like Visual Studio?
Rather than building our own IDE, we're looking at where the development community is going. [ has built an Eclipse toolkit for Apex.] Do I think the Eclipse ecosystem is giving some competition to the Visual Studio ecosystem? Yes. ... [Also,] doing it for Eclipse means people can do it with a fully functioning IDE they don't have to pay for. I'm not saying we won't do [a Visual Studio toolkit], but I'm highly confident if it's something the development community wants, it'll happen.

"I'm not saying we won't do [a Visual Studio toolkit], but I'm highly confident if it's something the development community wants, it'll happen."
Peter Coffee, Director of Platform Research, Inc.

Benioff has essentially declared war on Microsoft as a company. Can Apex then be fairly viewed as an assault on .NET development?
We're really moving along much more parallel lines than this being any kind of clash of titans. What it does is shift the terms of debate away from desktop-centric to cloud-centric computing. Now the focus of the debate is who's going to be a demonstrably capable provider. ... I'm very happy to have the battle be fought on those grounds.

About the Author

Chris Kanaracus is the news editor for Redmond Developer News.

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