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Monday, November 10, 2008, 07:00 am PT (10:00 am ET)

Microsoft plans to embrace Apple's App Store format

Microsoft is less interested in adopting WebKit for a future version of Internet Explorer than in its plans to replicate another Apple-driven technology: the direct-to-customer software distribution model pioneered by the App Store.

Although Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said Friday that the WebKit rendering engine employed by browsers such as Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome is "interesting" and may be looked into, he later suggested the company will stick true to its Trident engine for the foreseeable future so that it can continue to develop non-standard additions to the web experience.

"From time to time, we may take a look at [WebKit], but right now we feel very confident in our browser team and its availability to execute," he said at a developers conference in Australia, adding that while it's important his firm's browser embraces Web standards, it's vital that the company also be able to deliver "proprietary innovation" through "innovative extensions."

That said, Ballmer was more keen on mimicking Apple's move to digital software distribution through the App Store, revealing that Microsoft will soon launch a similar program that lets developers distribute their applications 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," he said. "[They've] made it easier to kind of get exposure for your applications."

Apple said last month that App Store users have downloaded more than 200 million applications since the digital shop opened its doors in July, while FaceBook has afforded third parties an avenue to market their software through the social networking site since last year.

Although Ballmer admits there's "not much money being made" by the formats, "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."

While the executive stopped short of providing hard details, he told developers to "fear not," as the company is hard at work on technology that will deliver some of the benefits of the two platforms, particularly those employed by FaceBook.

To that end, Microsoft is rumored to be testing a FaceBook knock-off dubbed "TownSquare," which was reportedly designed to be deployed within the enterprise. The software giant's specific ambitions for App Store-like application distribution are unclear.