Salesforce.com is putting itself at the centre of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) universe with the launch of Salesforce Platform Edition this week.

The Platform Edition will let other SaaS vendors and customers build services using Salesforce's development tools and language. The Platform does not require that a customer use Salesforce's CRM application.

CEO Marc Benioff said that the news marks the arrival of Salesforce as a platform company, something Benioff has hinted at in the past but never expressed outright.

The first steps were taken when the company announced AppExchange, which allowed third-party ISVs to plug into the Salesforce CRM. Then, last year, the company unveiled its own development language, Apex Code.

If successful, Platform Edition would extend Salesforce's reach far beyond its current status as a CRM application provider and would in fact challenge many of the traditional enterprise software vendors. Up until now, vendors like SAP and Oracle claimed that applications required a central core or platform like SAP NetWeaver or Oracle Fusion to plug into.

While the SaaS model grows in popularity, it is considered a bit more risky than traditional applications mainly because it has a bit of an ad-hoc feel to it with each vendor offering its own take on SaaS.

But along with the unprecedented surge in SaaS vendors and customers, the Salesforce Platform gives SaaS deployments the central hub it has been missing for deployment, integration, and management of all SaaS applications.

However, not everyone sees the platform as the right strategy for an enterprise.

Marc Osofsky, vice president of marketing at Optaros, noted that there are a lot of companies pushing platforms.

"The challenge is if you pick one you are trapped to what that platform can provide," said Osofsky.

Optaros is a system integrator that uses web services and open source to create custom solutions. According to Osofsky, a company is better served by standardising at the component level.

"If you want to change, you just throw out that component," Osofsky said.

Ariel Kelman, senior director of platform product marketing at Salesforce, counters that notion by saying users do not want to worry about how to link various components.

"We think, looking at it at a higher level, a platform approach is better aligned with customer success because they build the business application, and they don't have to worry about putting together components and how they stick together," said Kelman.

The platform edition includes Salesforce ODOS, an on-demand operating system to run multiple applications within a single instance of the Salesforce platform. The OS includes a single model for data, security, and user interface.

"An operating system will let users switch between applications, move from using SFA to recruiting, for example," said Kelman.

While the interface may change, all the applications are built on the same infrastructure, Kelman added, saying that users should anticipate new more sophisticated features within the operating system over time.

Salesforce.com Platform Edition is available now and is based on $25 per user, per month.