* What are the major differences between Force.com and the old App Exchange?
The primary evolution from AppExchange to Force.com Platform is towards more flexibility. AppExchange was focused around helping developers design and sell very constrained applications with a small amount of customization – particularly to provide some vertically focused features. Force.com aims to generalize their cloud offering and compete more closely with Amazon AWS in letting strong developers do more fully custom development on the SFdC platform.
* How will custom cloud apps help organizations?
Clearly there are some significant gains in deployment effort and maintenance cost with cloud apps. The important issue is the ‘custom’ part – an app in the cloud can reduce IT setup times and capital expenditure.
All cloud platforms offer differing levels of flexibility – very flexible platforms like Amazon AWS don’t cut down too terribly much on development and deployment effort. Easier platforms can be faster to develop on, but have more constraints and may not fit your requirements as well, or might even introduce additional necessary development workaround because of their constraints.
Force.com is an intermediate platform that still requires substantial custom development costs for any serious application. Intuit’s Quickbase platform is also in this category.
Platforms that still require some explicit app-building, but are aimed at end-users include Longjump and Coghead, these have not hit a receptive market because they are too difficult for non-technical users, and too constrained for developers.
End-user focused platforms – especially ones that also include APIs like Blist and DabbleDB let end users who are mostly just comfortable with spreadsheets build relational database backed applications themselves, but also let developers leverage the backend in the cloud for real customization. This allows for much greater cost savings because you don't need to pay for custom development up front until you really need it.
There is, however, a sweet spot for platforms like Force.com that requires and includes custom software developers/consultants, but allow for somewhat lighter-weight and cost custom application projects.
* Do businesses really want to host their apps with Salesforce?
Just being in the cloud does not really address the development cost and the development aspect of time to deployment. Cloud apps may not interface as closely with your legacy data and databases for integrating interesting BI data. This will be the longer-term hurdle for adoption.
Of course, today the largest barrier to adoption is perceived security and control. While under normal circumstances a public company like Salesforce.com will store your data securely and recover if necessary, in unforeseeable ‘black swan’ events – you can lose control of data hosted by large, politically-targetable 3rd parties – for example Google handing over data to the government of China.
* Does the impact of the change depend on the size of your
business? Can both small and big business take advantage?"
Both large and small business can take advantage of custom cloud apps, but Force.com apps work better for large companies that already have internal IT departments and existing budget for IT consulting. For smaller businesses without these resources, end-user focused applications like Blist or DabbleDB are a better fit.