I recently attended and spoke at Dreamforce 2014, Salesforce.com's (SFDC) premier conference.
I’ve tried a number of times to describe Dreamforce to people who haven’t been before, but to be honest, there are no words that fully cover the experience. The Dreamforce website states:
“Dreamforce is four high-energy days of innovation, fun, and giving back. It’s your chance to learn from industry visionaries, product experts, and world leaders who can help you transform your business and your life.”
Unfortunately this doesn’t come close to describing the event, which this year saw more than 150,000 people attend from all over the world.
My best effort would be:
“Dreamforce is the biggest conference / festival you will ever attend. The entire event feels like it was designed by Walt Disney, with the marketing polish of Apple! Between the 2000 sessions, you’ll also find a music festival, all night meet-ups and a 1million dollar hackathon. It’s a techies dream!”
With that said and to quote Morpheus, “Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix (*Dreamforce*) is. You have to see it for yourself.”
Due to the scale of Dreamforce it would be impossible to cover all of the announcements in a single blog post. As a result I’ve decided to focus on what I believe to be the most important announcement.
Salesforce1 Lightning is not new, in fact SFDC have been working on it for years. We got our first official glimpse of Lightning last year at Dreamforce with the release of the Salesforce1 Mobile App. This application was built using Lightning, or as it was known then “Aura”.
What is Lightning?
Lightning is the next major release of the Salesforce1 platform (AKA Force.com) and in my opinion is the biggest change since SFDC first introduced the ability to create custom objects.
SFDC have released an overview video which highlights the Salesforce1 Platform with Lightning:
Why is Lightning so important?
It’s clear the future will be device agnostic, meaning users will be accessing applications and services across a magnitude of different end points. This could be anything from tablets and smartphones, to wearable devices like the Apple Watch, as well as other paradigms that haven’t been introduced yet.
The current Salesforce1 user interface is geared towards the browser and I think everyone would agree, has a certain “90’s look”. It also doesn’t consistently optimise for other screen sizes, requiring a complete user interface shift, like with the Salesforce1 Mobile App. This results in a confusing user experience that causes SFDC and developers pain, as they still have to individually think about desktop and mobile when developing complex applications.
With Lightning, SFDC have delivered a new mobile-optimised, modular user interface, which delivers a consistent experience across all devices and enables rapid application development through re-use.
How does Lightning work?
The easiest way to explain Lightning is to focus on two parts, the "Lightning Framework" and "Lightning Components". Essentially, Lightning applications are built using the Lightning Framework and comprise of Lightning Components.
This architecture helps drive great performance by intelligently utilising the device (client), server and network, enabling developers to focus on the logic and interactions of their app.
Every Lightning application is made up of Lightning Components. Each component is a self-contained, re-usable unit, that can range from a simple line of text to a fully functioning capability. Components interact with their environment by listening to or publishing events.
SFDC have already created a number of prebuilt Lightning Components (e.g. Chatter feed, search bar, charts, etc.) which can be used as part of app development. You can also expect partners to build Lightning Components and make them available on the AppExchange.
Developers can use or expand the prebuilt components, as well as build their own custom components. Any component can then be re-used across different applications on the Salesforce1 platform.
The goal is for developers to build components instead of apps, enabling speed to value through re-use, as well as guaranteeing each component will be fast, secure and device agnostic, thanks to the Lightning Framework.
What about Declarative Development?
One of the great aspects of the Salesforce1 platform, is the ability to develop declaratively (click’s, not code). This opens up app development to non-developers (e.g. business users), which SFDC call “Citizen Developers”.
As part of the move to Lightning, SFDC have created the Lightning App Builder. Put simply, this is a GUI driven process to “compose applications” from Lighting Components.
The Lightning App Builder will enable non-developers to build even better applications, quicker, through a drop and drag interface. For example, if you want a Chatter Feed in your app, simply drag one in. Everything else (e.g. performance, scale, security) is taken care of by the Salesforce1 platform and thanks to the Lightning Framework, the components will optmise perfectly for any device.
The video below shows the Lightning App Builder in action:
I believe Lightning is a game changer for the Saleforce1 platform. I can see a huge opportunity for developers as they shift from creating standalone apps, to re-usable Lightning Components.
This is the potential I have always seen in the Salesforce1 platform, where app development is no longer a time consuming, costly process, but instead fast and efficient. For the first time, this is achievable through a building block approach, that doesn’t sacrifice quality, performance or security.
I fully expect to see a lot of energy around Lightning over the next twelve months as SFDC continue to make more of the capabilities available to the community. There will also be a judgment day for the current browser user interface, when SFDC will enable Lightning across the entire platform (my guess is Dreamforce 2015).
Overall I think Lightning will change the way apps are built and I’m excited to see what developers (including citizen developers) do with the new capabilities!