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When Activision needed software to help it field questions about Call of Duty and other games, it chose Salesforce over Oracle.

Oracle loses software growth to Salesforce

– When Activision Blizzard needed new software to help it field questions from users of its “Call of Duty” shooter franchise and other games, it held a bakeoff between Oracle and

Oracle lost.

Activision, the world’s biggest video-game maker, wanted applications delivered over the Internet and stored in the cloud, rather than on its own servers, Activision Chief Information Officer Robert Schmid said.

“Salesforce has really stepped up to the plate,” he said. “I’m much more interested in a cloud application than an on-premises application. I don’t want to do plumbing.”

Companies as varied as Bayer, Zynga and Hewlett- Packard also have opted in recent months for Salesforce over Oracle, evidence of shifting loyalties in the $113.8 billion business-applications market. Some corporations aiming to cut costs and find more flexible ways to run operations are turning to cloud providers like Salesforce and Workday Inc., shunning the kinds of pre-packaged applications made by Oracle that are installed on machines and carry multiyear service agreements.

“ and Workday are taking share and eroding Oracle’s application maintenance stream,” said Brad Zelnick, an analyst at Macquarie Capital in New York, who downgraded Oracle’s stock to neutral in January.

“That’s what’s really giving Oracle a run for their money.”

Workday, a Pleasanton, Calif., maker of Web software that helps companies manage human resources and finances, is also gaining ground at the expense of industry stalwarts like Oracle and SAP, Europe’s largest software maker.

Workday replaced Oracle and SAP systems at companies including Flextronics International, Kimberly-Clark, Sun Life Financial and Lenovo Group.

The startup plans to file for an initial public offering this year that would raise as much as $500 million. Workday is aiming for the same companywide software installations that are Oracle’s and SAP’s strong suits.

Salesforce and Workday espouse an approach called “software as a service” that lets customers rent business applications instead of installing them on their own servers. This means companies that want to arm employees with new software don’t have to buy the underlying hardware, databases and the middleware that helps various programs work together. Nor do they have to retain the phalanx of consultants often needed to keep the systems working well.

The enterprise software industry, meantime, has thrived by shipping big upgrades after years-long development cycles, then collecting richly profitable maintenance fees each year for bug fixes, said Salesforce Executive Vice President John Wookey, a veteran of Oracle and SAP who joined Salesforce last November.

“In that model, the burden for making the software work is on the customer,” said Wookey, who spent a dozen years at Oracle and led development of the company’s new Fusion applications, then worked at SAP from 2008 until last year. “What’s different about the cloud is if people don’t like your software, they’ll stop using it.”

Oracle is still a software powerhouse, many times bigger and more profitable than Salesforce. Excluding options costs and other expenses, Oracle turned an $11.4 billion profit in its last fiscal year, compared with Salesforce’s $193.6 million.

There’s also ample chance for Oracle and other large software makers to peel off customers of aging business applications like those made by Lawson Software and Sage Group.

Sensitive data can’t always be stored outside a company’s walls. What’s more, cloud computing companies’ software may actually cost more than the sticker price because some companies need to hire consultants from Accenture and Infosys to integrate it with other programs they run.

Yet as companies swap older enterprise resource planning systems with newer cloud-computing software, SAP and Oracle have struggled to offer more Web-friendly applications. Oracle was years late to market with its Fusion applications, meant to knit together its acquisitions of Siebel, PeopleSoft and other companies with a more modern user interface and software code.

Responding to the threat, Oracle is making forays into cloud computing. It agreed last month to buy Taleo, a maker of online human resources software, for $1.9 billion. In January, Oracle acquired RightNow Technologies for $1.5 billion to gain online customer-service software. The company has also announced a service called the Oracle Public Cloud to run Fusion applications in Oracle’s data centers.

“We are well positioned as the only vendor with a standards-based, fully integrated suite of modern applications which can be deployed on premises or on a public or private cloud,” Oracle President Mark Hurd said.