If it’s October, it must be time for Dreamforce, Salesforce.com’s annual user gig and my, how its grown. A few years ago there was goofing around on a Segway in the ballroom of a San Franciso hotel; this year you had over 5,000 people milling around in the neo-brutalist hell that is the city’s Moscone convention centre. In the event, there was much to commend the announcements that were made.

We’ve said before that the biggest problem with Siebel was that it had one really good idea and then lived off that for years afterwards. (Actually it did have other ideas but none of them were terribly good, which is pretty much the same thing). Whatever else critics can throw at Salesforce.com, it would a bold person who tried to claim that the firm does not innovate.

This time around we had the IdeaExchange, a way for users to add their requests for and comments on new features in an open forum – nice of Salesforce.com to alert competitors to what its punters want to see in future product development.

But the most startling development was Apex, which at first sight appears to be a bold (cheeky?) attempt to outsource feature enhancement and customisation to customers. Basically Apex allows customers to make changes to the vendors’ applications or write their own.

Customers can also use Apex to build completely new applications – including functional areas such as HR and ERP that Salesforce.com is not touching – and have Salesforce.com store and run them in its datacentre on its Apex service platform. “Apex gives customers the same power as Salesforce.com’s internal developers to build their own applications,” says CEO Marc Benioff. “If you want to change our software you can do it.”

Finer details are yet to be ironed out – including pricing – but there’s time for that. It won’t be turning up for a couple of quarters yet. But the announcement does take Salesforce.com to a new tipping point: from its CRM roots to being a full-blown Software as a Service platform. CRM drives the majority of Salesforce.com user seats today but web services API calls already represent 45 per cent of total transactions.

It’s possible to envisage a time when native CRM transactions become the minority of those running through the company’s servers. It’s all a far cry from goofy antics with a Segway all those years ago.

They say you can judge a person by the company they keep. That being so, what are we to make of the appearance on stage of Accenture at Dreamforce this year? Let’s see – this is Accenture, the systems integrator that has made a killing over the years wrestling to get SAP ERP systems up and running. The same Accenture that depending on which estimates you believe makes five or 10 or 15 dollars for every dollar you spend on a SAP licence.

Now let’s map that track record on to the claims made for the likes of Salesforce.com. You come into work, fire up your browser and lo and behold, there’s the latest upgrade to the system.

So… what precisely do I need Accenture’s good ministrations for?

But from the near-genuflecting that went on from Bob Suh, MD at Accenture, it’s clear that SaaS is a top priority for the firm. Plus he’s putting the company’s money where its corporate mouth is to the tune of a $450 million investment in SaaS and SOA.

Why does that leave me just a little, teensy-weensy bit worried?

With the imminent arrival of the Zune, the so-called iPod killer from Microsoft, there’s much talk among the consumer market geeks about which will win out, with technical specs and form factor details being bandied around willy-nilly.

It all leaves me cold, so thank heavens Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, can be relied upon to bring things back to earth.

Asked about the Zune’s professed ability to create communities and make new friends by sharing songs wirelessly, Jobs sneers: “It takes forever. By the time you’ve gone through all that, the girl’s got up and left! You’re much better off to take one of your headphones out and put it in her ear.” Thanks for that Steve.

Memo to Richard Granger, NHS IT chief: Just. Get. Over. It.