His motto is "no more software," but Marc Benioff has spent more than 25 years writing, selling and promoting it. He wrote his first programs around age 14 -- adventure games for the Commodore, Atari and Apple II -- started his own software company in college and eventually went to work for
Now he's the founder and head of
, a dot-com darling that helped push rival
into the arms of Larry Ellison. Since closing at $17.20 on its first day of trading in June 2004, San Francisco-based Salesforce.com has doubled its per-share value and now has a market cap of $3.71 billion.
Never shy about expressing his opinions, the 41-year-old CEO discussed "the next big thing" and the end of
"productivity tax" in an interview with
TheStreet.com: What was on the cutting edge when you joined the technology industry in the '80s?
: In 1986, the Macintosh was only two years old; Steve Jobs had been thrown out of
the year before, the
PC was still not respected by the CIOs (chief information officers) and
networks were just starting to emerge. A lot of the cutting edge was in the mainframe- and mini-computer world, and Digital Equipment was the second-largest computer company in the world.
How about today?
It's still about the network; but not the network in your business, but the network that wraps the globe -- the Internet. That's the driving economic force creating new business and technology models. You read about it in Thomas Friedman's book
The World Is Flat
, but it should be called
The World Is Flat: How the Internet Changed Everything
Give us an example.
Somehow word processing, of all things, has become cool again.
You're putting me on.
Why would I be so excited about it? I can do all my writing in a browser, and when I save the file it's not on my computer, it's on the Net. Then I can email whomever and give the software their addresses so we can all collaborate on this document, see color-coded changes and publish it as an RSS feed and stream changes via
You couldn't have had an application like that a few years ago
Right. The browser is relatively stable and more robust. People forget it was only seven or eight years ago that browsers were crashing on a regular basis. The network is dominant and I've got broadband in my office and my home and not just on computers. We have mobile devices like the Blackberry and the Treo with browsers that could even bring up that document we were just talking about. And the back-end technology is much more sophisticated. It's easier to build multitenant systems, which are the real key.
Multitenant architectures allow one application to serve multiple companies instead of forcing the service provider to host one copy of the application for each company it serves. The architecture allows separate organizations to take advantage of shared infrastructure while maintaining discrete, secure data management. Amazon.com and eBay.com were early examples of multitenant Web applications.
What will the cutting edge look like in a few years?
Look at Writely
the Web word processor alluded to earlier or Numsum, which is a spreadsheet. And hosted calendaring, but the real point is that there are already 20 of
these Web-based applications with a new one coming out every couple of months. This creates the opportunity to end the monopoly around office productivity on the desktop by Microsoft, which is holding us hostage by these update and upgrade fees. When you buy a nice new laptop, what's the most expensive part? Microsoft Office. And you don't pay just once; you pay when you move to Office 10, or 12 or 15. It's like a productivity tax.
How do you challenge that?
You need to break free of the technology and business model this productivity tax is based on; and that's a software-based model where software is on CDs and you have license fees for things you want to install on your laptop. Instead we are moving to a new technology model like Web services and new business models -- like
advertising-based model or our subscription-based model -- that are more customer-friendly, more user-friendly. That's good for the consumer and it's about time.
Yes, both will still have very significant positions in the industry but so will IBM, which has been a dominant player for multiple decades. Dominant players don't disappear, they evolve, they change. IBM is more of a services company these days.
Speaking of changes, Microsoft seems to be embracing on-demand computing.
We're seeing that sort of thing happen with Microsoft Live. They said in December that the future is in on-demand and the future is in network services. I was puzzled, so I said to my colleagues: "If everything is going to be on-demand, what's all this software stuff they keep shoving down everybody's throat -- is
Your take on the next big thing?
I really believe, and I don't mean to be glib, but the next big thing is the current big thing -- it's the Internet. We cannot predict what is happening; the Internet is metamorphosing -- it's growing, it's changing, it's globalizing.
What's being overhyped these days?
The Xbox 360. That must be bad to say. But I just put a new
GeForce 7800 in my computer and I have a much better game machine than those video consoles. When you look at computing and what you can buy at relatively low cost and how much processing power you get and the ability to play multiplayer games, you have to say the desktop or Intel platform is more exciting.
What will Web 2.0 mean for business?
A lower-cost, lower-risk way to automate themselves. Businesses have been in a very difficult situation where they are expected to be experts in
their own competencies and experts in IT as well. Companies will get the computing services they need on the Internet and stop playing CIO.
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