Force.com and Google Data API: The Cloud Gets a Little Easier to Program

At one point during salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff’s keynote yesterday at the SaaS leader’s Tour De Force stop in Santa Clara, he presented a slide with a signpost of a forked road. One road led toward software and the other toward cloud computing. Above them was the declaration: “it’s time for software developers to ask ‘which path am I going to take?'”

The slide served as a launching point for Benioff to promote the advantages cloud computing (on the Force.com platform, in particular) offers application developers over traditional on-premise datacenters. But the proposition it posed was, of course, overstated. While the advantages of cloud computing–minimal start-up cost and systems maintenance, and the ability to deploy with a click of the mouse–are compelling, most developers today aren’t facing an either/or proposition. They work in organizations that are heterogeneous mixes of on-premise applications with just a few business or infrastructure functions deployed in the cloud (if any). New projects might be considered for the cloud-computing model and web startups definitely would have to look at that option, but for most businesses, existing investments in datacenters and enterprise software licenses guarantee that the on-premise model isn’t going away any time soon.

For those developers who are already programming on the Force.com platform using the Apex programming language, Salesforce.com announced the Force.com Toolkit for Google Data (GData) APIs. I sat down with Steven Fisher, Senior Vice President of the Platform Division at salesforce.com, who explained that Apex had all the bare capabilities for a developer to call the GData APIs manually prior to the toolkit’s release, but coding against the API required parsing through all the XML in the GData ATOM and RSS API. “What we really announced today at the technical level is an Apex library that does all that parsing for you, so you can just interact with objects,” Fisher told me.

“Behind the scenes, this library formats out the appropriate XML, and does the HTTP callouts, and all of that kind of stuff. It was so much effort (calling GData from Apex) that people just weren’t going to do it, and now it’s one line of code.”

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