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Ballmer: Microsoft working on App Store-like software distribution

But he rejects the idea of using WebKit to power IE

November 7, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft Corp. is working on a software distribution scheme along the lines of Apple's iPhone App Store, CEO Steve Ballmer said yesterday at a developer's conference in Sydney, Australia.

But Microsoft has no plans to mimic Apple Inc. in another way, Ballmer added, rejecting the idea of using the open-source WebKit rendering engine to power the company's Internet Explorer (IE) Web browser. Apple relies on WebKit as the foundation of its Safari browser, as does Google Inc. for its Chrome.

During the question-and-answer portion of his time on stage at an event the company billed as "Liberation Day" for Australian developers, Ballmer said that Microsoft will soon launch a service that will let programmers sell their wares directly to consumers.

"I actually will agree that there's some good work, particularly at Facebook and also with the iPhone, where both of those companies have made it easier for developers to distribute their applications," Ballmer said when asked whether Microsoft would provide a way for developers to create software and distribute it directly to users.

"[They've] made it easier to kind of get exposure for your applications," Ballmer continued. "There's not much money being made, but the general concept of giving developers a way not only to get their code distributed, but to really get visibility for the code, is a good idea."

Apple's App Store, which launched in July along with the iPhone 3G, has been a phenomenal success, according to CEO Steve Jobs. During a conference call last month with Wall Street analysts to discuss his company's most recently concluded quarter, Jobs said that users had downloaded 200 million programs from the App Store since its debut, and that the online mart -- the only officially sanctioned way to add new capabilities to an iPhone -- boasted more than 5,500 applications.

Facebook, meanwhile, has allowed third-party developers to market software on the social networking site since May 2007.

Ballmer hinted that something similar would be coming soon from Microsoft. "We debated long and hard before the [Professional Developers Conference] whether we ought to disclose some of the things that we've got in progress," Ballmer said. The conference was held in Los Angeles last week.

"We decided the answer was 'Not ready to talk about those yet,'" Ballmer continued. "But fear not, we're hard at work, and you'll see some of the benefits [of that] with some of the concepts, particularly Facebook's."

Ballmer's lean toward Facebook makes sense. In June, Microsoft said it had prototyped a Facebook knock-off dubbed "TownSquare" and was testing it inside the company. According to Microsoft, TownSquare was designed to run inside enterprises.

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