Salesforce.com reveals details of upcoming Chatterbox, Identity services

Chatterbox will give companies a secure, easy way to share files, Salesforce.com says

Salesforce.com on Wednesday revealed more details of its upcoming Chatterbox file-sharing service, which is set to compete with the likes of Box and Dropbox, as well as a new identity management platform called Salesforce Identity.

CEO Marc Benioff discussed both products briefly last week during an onstage interview at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. Salesforce.com's Dreamforce event is ongoing this week in San Francisco, with Benioff set to deliver a keynote address later Wednesday.

Chatterbox will allow Salesforce.com users to "manage and share files in the context of business -- all with the trust customers expect from Salesforce," the company said in a statement.

The service will build upon Salesforce.com's Chatter social collaboration and messaging service, which was first announced in 2009. Salesforce.com is apparently hoping to position Chatterbox as a way for enterprises to give employees the Dropbox-like functionality they want in a way that can be centrally managed and monitoring by IT staff.

Chatterbox will give workers the ability to "share and manage their files in Chatter as easily as they share photos with their friends and family on Facebook," Salesforce.com said in a statement.

Files will also be synchronized across desktops and mobile devices, according to Salesforce.com.

Chatterbox is set to enter a pilot phase in the first half of next year, according to the announcement. Pricing information will be made available when the product goes into general availability, a date for which wasn't given.

The Chatterbox announcement ties into Salesforce.com's general strategic push around "social enterprises," the notion of layering social collaboration tools on top of and within its core CRM (customer relationship management) and customer service applications.

While a recent study of Salesforce.com users by consulting firm Bluewolf found that interest in Chatter was "cold" these days, on Wednesday Salesforce.com released figures stating otherwise. Chatter now has more than 170,000 active networks and is used by more than half of the Fortune 500, Salesforce.com said.

Whatever the truth is about customer uptake of Chatter, it may not really matter, according to Todd McKinnon, CEO of cloud identity management vendor Okta, which will compete with Identity.

"At the end of the day, they don't have to make these other ancillary businesses successful," said McKinnon, who was senior vice president of engineering at Saleforce.com from 2003 to 2009. "All they really have to do is make sure the core CRM business stays on the cutting edge."

Okta's software provides a centralized and secure way to manage user identities across multiple cloud applications and also integrates with on-premises Microsoft Active Directory systems.

McKinnon expressed little concern about competing with Salesforce.com, saying that Okta's software likely will have a much broader reach than whatever Salesforce.com ends up doing. "It definitely has our attention," he said. "But my sense is that it will be very Salesforce.com-centric."

However, details Salesforce.com released Wednesday suggest it may have more ambitious plans.

Identity will "deliver a single, social, trusted identity service across all enterprise apps, delivered with the simplicity, transparency and trust of the Salesforce Platform," the company said. The product is scheduled for general availability next year, according to Salesforce.com

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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