Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff: End Coming for Windows in Enterprise

If you ask cloud computing evangelist Marc Benioff about the future of Windows and PCs in the enterprise world it comes as no surprise that he sees this era rapidly coming to an end.

That change, he believes, may be closer than ever if this week’s release of Windows 8 gives chief information officers the pretext to rethink which technologies are used in their companies.

At Friday’s Cloudforce conference in New York, Salesforce chairman and CEO Benioff talked up the services his company provides to the likes of Coca-Cola, Virgin Atlantic Airways, and Toyota. For example, Salesforce (NYSE: CRM) helped Coca-Cola develop software that lets consumers create and purchase their own beverage blends at certain vending machines and share those recipes online with friends.

During his keynote speech, Benioff brought out Michael Lazerow, co-founder of New York–based social media marketing company Buddy Media, which Salesforce acquired in June for $690 million. Buddy Media is being combined with social media monitoring company Radian6, a previous Salesforce acquisition, to offer their services under one umbrella, Salesforce marketing cloud.

Lazerow echoed Benioff’s sentiments about changes underway as wireless devices and cloud computing offer businesses new options to interact in-house and with their customers. “The largest companies in the world have a desire to innovate,” Lazerow said. “They have legacy systems they have to deal with but they want to transform their companies.”

That transformation seems to already be happening thanks to widespread personal use of tablets and smartphones by professionals. Benioff spoke with reporters and analysts during the conference about how that trend, coupled with the momentum he sees in cloud computing, may affect the role of desktop PCs and the Windows operating system in business.

A prior conversation, Benioff said, with a chief information officer who oversees the technology infrastructure for some 300,000 employees proved quite telling. “She told me her primary goal was to get rid of every single PC. She said it’s the end of Windows,” Benioff said. “She has no interest in upgrading to Windows 8.”

Part of this decision, he said, stemmed from the demand for mobile devices in the workplace in relation to PCs. “This CIO wanted to move to a bring-your-own-device architecture,” he said, a strategy he sees being adopted by many companies. “People are bringing their iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. I think soon they’ll be bringing their [Amazon] Kindles.”

A lot of Benioff’s claims, of course, are tied up in the often-entertaining competition between his San Francisco-based company and Microsoft, the massive veteran of business software. But he’s correct that businesses of all kinds are seeing more employees bring their personal computing devices to work, and looking for policies that give them access to their work from virtually any screen.

In fact, Microsoft is positioning Windows 8 as a way to bridge these new realities—as Bill Gates says in this newly released promotional video interview, the newest version of Windows is intended to work with Microsoft’s smartphone software and its new Office software as a seamless, cloud-connected experience.

The growing use of mobile devices may also bring changes to the way companies connect their data networks, Benioff said. Many companies use local area networks to keep employees and data connected, but he sees the next generation of high-bandwidth networks through wireless providers reducing the reliance on in-house servers.

In fact, Benioff said that after Salesforce opened a new office in downtown San Francisco equipped with Wi-Fi, he questioned the necessity for such a network. “My LTE [reception] in San Francisco is fantastic,” Benioff said. “I don’t put on Wi-Fi. I don’t need it.”

As Microsoft prepares to release Window 8 this week, Benioff expects even more overseers of technology to weigh their options. Today’s choices, he said, were not largely available when Windows 7 was released in 2009. As more powerful mobile devices with access to the growing population of cloud-based software hit the market, he believes a wave of change is imminent.

“I think it’s the end of Windows,” he said. “I think Windows 8 is the gambit for every CIO to reconsider what their new device is.”

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