It’s a pretty safe bet that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff won’t be going to Oracle’s OpenWorld next week, but he’ll certainly be on the minds of many.

This Time Last Year ...

Last year Benioff and Oracle boss, Larry Ellison, had a highly publicized spat at the event after Ellison canceled Benioff’s keynote citing that there was a last minute “scheduling conflict” (an excuse that no one bought).

Instead of responding with something like a snooty “Fine, it’s your conference, have it your way, don’t expect to see me or my followers again,” Benioff sent out an invitational tweet to Salesforce enthusiasts:

“Join me @ St. Regis AME Restaurant at 10:30AM! The cloud can’t be stopped!”

The St. Regis hotel is a stone’s throw away from the Oracle conference. So many people showed up to hear Benioff’s keynote that, reportedly, as many as 1000 had to be turned away.

It’s not hard to guess what made the hit-list on that day’s Oracle OpenWorld news.

And this year, before Ellison’s event even starts, industry watchers are already wondering if there’s any way that Oracle can match the attendance records set at Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual conference, held last week. According to reports, 90,000 professionals registered for Dreamforce, making it the world’s largest vendor technology conference thus far this year.

That’s a title that Oracle usually holds and apparently isn’t planning to give up; so it’s presenting a slightly different set of parameters to measure attendance. According to the official press release, OpenWorld will be technology’s largest event with 50,000 attendees and one million online attendees.

When you consider that Oracle’s revenues were US$ 37.1 billion last year and Salesforce’s were US$ 2.66 billion, the difference in percentage of enthusiasts in each camp is fairly substantial, with Oracle not being the winner. And in a world where users call the shots more and more often, enthusiasm in the user community matters.

So does vision.

And while Oracle’s sights and successes have, at least until now, been rooted in database management systems, tools for database development and systems of middle-tier software, enterprise resource planning software (ERP), customer relationship management software (CRM) and supply chain management (SCM) software, and more recently even hardware, Salesforce has given its users a way to get away from all that (Salesforce’s stated mission is “the end of software”) by putting it in the cloud. 

Ellison, up until recently, ridiculed the idea, calling the buzz around “the cloud” (watch this “must see” video) as a bunch of hype.

How quickly things change.

Next week at OpenWorld, Ellison will be promoting the Oracle Cloud, a fully-fledged cloud solution with everything a customer would need including  services for platform, application, custom infrastructure and social.

"It's been a long time coming," Ellison told Oracle investors of his company’s new offering in a recent conference call. "We made a decision to rebuild all of our applications for the cloud almost seven years ago.” (Maybe Oracle’s Project Fusion was code for “the cloud”?)

It will be interesting to see how enthusiastically Oracle’s vision is received by a community whose success and careers are rooted in the ground.

They've Got the Cloud, Now Where's the Social?

But as Benioff articulated at Dreamforce, it’s not only “the cloud” that will present business wins for his customers, social rates, too (and not as an afterthought). And though Ellison would likely agree, industry analysts at OpenWorld are going to look hard at Oracle’s vision for Social.

Last week Benioff made the case for Social (known as Chatter in the Salesforce World) being a stream from which other things flow, arguing that it is the place from which the Facebook generation will want to work.

Ellison is expected to say that Oracle’s applications will be socially enabled versus having the social network as the hub.

What Would Benioff Tweet at OpenWorld?

Though Benioff may not be tweeting during Ellison’s keynote, if he were, he might send out a 140 character congratulatory note to Ellison for finally making it to the cloud. And then, he might add in a dig about connecting with him in the Facebook-like Social Enterprise (which he plans to own) a decade from now.

Editor's Note: Want to read more of Virginia's take on Dreamforce?

-- The Dreamforce Takeaway? Salesforce Gears-up to Takeover the Enterprise