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Intuit muscles into the Platform as a Service game

The financial software powerhouse aims to transform its QuickBooks success into a desktop App Store for its huge SMB base.

Intuit this week unveiled its own Platform as a Service (PaaS) model that parallels what has done with -- but with a twist.

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With the arrival of 2010 versions of Intuit's popular desktop software, users will be able to purchase third-party custom applications from within the software itself -- open Quickbooks, click a button and trade directly with a vendor.

The App Center comes at a important time for PaaS, with many seeing the model as a safer, easier way to use cloud computing than dealing directly with hosted infrastructure providers such as Amazon or Rackspace.

Intuit said it wants to solve common irritants like data security for users and open a new channel for revenue by giving developers an easy way to reach a tantalizing captive audience: Four million customers, most of them small and medium businesses (SMBs) that need to solve business problems on a budget.

"It's the world of convenience, right?" said Alan Keller, VP of business development for VerticalResponse, which published an email marketing tool in the App Center. He thinks QuickBooks users are the perfect target for his company, and Intuit made it relatively easy to tie his application, which is not based on Intuit's software or platform, into their database of user QuickBooks data.

Keller said that his firm has gleaned several hundred subscribers from the program so far, and hopes for more. VerticalResponse users really want to avoid entangling themselves in multiple software applications and tools -- they want everything built-in as much as possible. VerticalResponse has also been a part of's AppExchange online market, and Keller said it was a great success for similar reasons.

It's the world of convenience, right?
Alan Keller, VP of business development for VerticalResponse, on the Intuit App Center ,
Intuit may face some heavy competition quickly, since is backing, an online accounting service that its users can use with AppExchange.

"It's definitely where we see our customers going," said Alex Chriss, director of Intuit's partner program. Chriss said that while Intuit was under the radar in cloud computing, the $3 billion software company had spent the last year and half building out a data center to house customers' online data, making synchronization a feature in 2009 and opening the "federated Inuit platform" this summer.

Intuit promises interoperability with other platforms
Intuit released application programming interfaces (APIs) in June to allow developers with applications from any platform to interface with the Intuit platform, opening up the field.

That's a significant difference from customer relationship management (CRM) leader and PaaS provider, which restricts developers to its proprietary Apex coding language. Intuit's platform is built on Quickbase and open source Adobe Flex. Intuit also encourages an open source community of developers to swap code and ideas, something emphatically does not support. Both platforms run on and Intuit's respective data centers.

Intuit's Workplace platform and App Center now present a potent avenue for developers to reach users who wouldn't ever turn to advanced computing tools or build their own infrastructure in the cloud.

At least that's the hope, according to Intuit. The vendor has a captive audience and a loyal one, if only because small businesses can't afford anything better, so by pushing applications in their faces, they can pick up ready money as they move into services. But these applications have to be worthwhile -- currently there are around 30. Applications will be sold on a subscription basis and Intuit will take 20% of the revenue at this point, said Chriss.

Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer for Contact him at

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