Salesforce.com and several reports suggest that their acquisition of Heroku, a Ruby cloud platform provider, just delivered a large and growing developer audience to Salesforce.com’s door. But did it?

Salesforce.com as a developer destination
Salesforce.com’s recent acquisition of Heroku, along with Salesforce.com’s newly introduced Database.com offering is raising the prospects of Salesforce.com a major platform as a service (PaaS) player for developers. Or at least that’s what Salesforce.com would like you to think. Here’s how Salesforce.com’s CEO, Marc Benioff, described the motivation behind the acquisition:

Ruby is the language of Cloud 2 [applications for real-time mobile and social platforms]. Developers love Ruby. it’s a huge advancement,” said Benioff. “It offers rapid development, productive programming, mobile and social apps and massive scale. We could move the whole industry to Ruby on Rails.

Analyst James Governor of RedMonk, a firm that is very much in tune with developer trends, wrote positively about the acquisition. Governor believes that Heroku, because of its Ruby heritage, will in fact bring developers to Salesforce.com who may have previously looked elsewhere. Governor writes:

Salesforce avoids IT to sell to the business, while Heroku avoids IT to sell to developers. The two firms definitely have something in common. While Salesforce has done an outstanding job selling to line of business people, its direct outreach to developers through its Force.com PaaS platform and “Java-like” APEX language has been disappointing so far. Big Difference then- APEX is “Java-like”. Heroku is Ruby.

Even Engine Yard, a competitor of Heroku, agrees that Ruby is a developer favorite, but dismisses that developers will wish to be tied to Salesforce.com. Tom Mornini, Engine Yard CTO and co-founder, explains:

No respectable developer wants to be on Salesforce.com. This could drive even more developers [to Engine Yard’s platform]…Ruby is the language for the cloud. If you are building apps, and you are building on the cloud, you have to build with Ruby

Ruby’s rise?
For Heroku to deliver Salesforce.com a large and growing number of developers, Ruby’s use should be growing.

According to the Tiobe index of the top 50 programming languages, Ruby’s usage declined in 2010 and has been, at best, relatively flat since 2007. The dark purple line at the bottom of the chart represents Ruby usage.

Next, a search for the terms “Ruby”, “PHP”, and “Python” in job postings on Indeed.com suggest that jobs seeking Ruby skills are in fact increasing. However, Ruby jobs trail both Python and PHP in the actual number and growth rate of the jobs. The dark red line represents Ruby jobs on Indeed.com.

Based on this data, it’s difficult to argue that Heroku truly delivered a horde of developers to Salesforce.com’s door. At least today.

Ruby in the enterprise
For Ruby to in fact become the de facto language of “Cloud 2” as Benioff claims, Ruby needs to be accepted by enterprises.

As much as Saleseforce.com and Heroku may be attempting to avoid IT, as Governor points out, when adoption grows sufficiently large within an enterprise, IT gets involved.

Today, few IT organizations approve of or support dynamic scripting-language based applications. Fewer enterprise middleware vendors could point to substantial businesses selling dynamic scripting language-based solutions to enterprises. While both of these could simply be point in time statements, they both need to be reversed before Ruby can take off in the enterprise.

It would seem that Salesforce.com is betting that it can not only attract developers, but use its brand to win approval for Ruby in the enterprise.

An alternate reality could see Salesforce.com successfully driving Ruby’s fortunes with developers, and entrenched middleware vendors such as IBM, Oracle or Microsoft benefiting when IT organizations begin looking for Ruby-based solutions.

Interesting times ahead for Ruby, Salesforce.com and enterprises alike.

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