A year ago at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff dropped some big news: Salesforce was getting into file-sharing, taking on competitors like Box with a new product called Chatterbox.
Turned out that wasn't really true. Chatterbox was an add-on feature to Chatter, Salesforce's news feed (think of it like Facebook for salespeople). It allowed users to place files from their local hard drives into the Chatter news stream, so other Salesforce users could read them on any device. But in conjunction with an earlier product called Chatter Files, which let Chatter users upload files for collaboration, it seemed like Salesforce was trying to get people to use Chatter to store and work on files, rather than relying on third-party repositories like Box.
Today, Salesforce is killing the Chatterbox name and instead subsuming its functionality into a new feature called Salesforce Files. It's different from previous Salesforce file-sharing efforts in several critical ways:
- It works with third-party file repositories, both on-premises (like SharePoint or Documentum) and cloud-based (like Dropbox or Box). To achieve this, Salesforce used technology it gained in the February 2013 acquisition of EntropySoft, which had built direct connectors to these repositories using their APIs. For repositories without direct APIs, Salesforce is relying on the CMIS standard.
- Files don't have to be stored in Salesforce. Instead, Salesforce will contain read-only links or pointers to files in other repositories. Access will be read only -- a user will be able to see a PowerPoint presentation stored in SharePoint that her business partner has shared via Salesforce, but she won't be able to edit it unless she downloads it to her device and opens it in a third-party app (like QuickOffice on the iPhone, for instance).
- It doesn't require Chatter, but will be available from within other Salesforce products.
- It will also be available to third-party applications built on the Salesforce Force platform.
The product enters beta today and will supposedly be out in February 2014, so there are still some areas that seem like they need a lot more fleshing out. In particular, Salesforce said Files would rely on permissions inherited from the other repositories -- so, for example, users who have permission to access a particular SharePoint folder will have permission to access that folder in Salesforce Files, too. But this seems to require Active Directory Federation Services, which is not trivial to set up; support for third-party identity brokers like Ping and Okta will come later on.
Salesforce Chatter executive vide president Nasi Jazayeri also told reporters that Files will eventually offer read-write access to files, but it wasn't clear which repositories would support this, or what the timeline would be for this feature.
At any rate, the takeaway is that Salesforce no longer expects to be an alternate repository for files. Instead, it's going to work with the repositories you already have.
Benioff speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt again next week. We can't wait to see what he says this time.