Force.com Free Edition allows users to develop one custom application that can be deployed to up to 100 users. The offer also includes online training, sample applications and a testing environment.
Companies that want greater access can buy Force.com subscriptions, which start at US$50 per user per month.
Salesforce.com is "keen for their development platform and tools to be positioned as an alternative to Java and [Microsoft] .NET," said 451 Group analyst China Martens via e-mail. "This is an on-ramp for development, more about trying to achieve some ubiquity at present, rather than much monetization."
Salesforce.com says Force.com is already enjoying significant momentum, with more than 110,000 custom applications developed on it. The vendor says its system helps companies develop applications much faster than traditional toolkits.
To back that claim, Salesforce has been pointing to a recent report from Nucleus Research, which looked at 17 Force.com projects. Nucleus found that on average, developers surveyed could create applications 4.9 times faster with Force.com than Java or .NET.