Microsoft has announced it is developing a software distribution scheme similar to Apple's App Store.

However, has no plans to mimic Apple in ther ways, said CEO Steve Ballmer at a developers conference in Australia last week. Ballmer rejected 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 for its Chrome.

Microsoft said it 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, with users downloading 200 million programs from the App Store since its debut. The online shop is the only officially sanctioned way to add new capabilities to an iPhone and features 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 Professional Developers Conference (PDC) was held in the US 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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