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Online store for business applications built with company's development tools is expected by the end of the year.

SAN FRANCISCO--Customer information systems may not be a very sexy topic, but CEO Marc Benioff is trying to spice it up a bit with a new service he's comparing to both eBay and Apple's iTunes Music Store.

Salesforce discussed plans Monday to launch an online marketplace for business applications. The store, called AppExchange, is expected to open for business by the end of the year as part of Salesforce's next release of its customer information system software.

Any software developer or Salesforce customer can sell programs or give them away through the store. Salesforce will encourage developers to make their programs available "on demand," via Salesforce's hosted computing platform.

"What if there was an eBay of applications, where companies could buy and sell software, running on our platform?" Benioff asked during a keynote speech here at a Salesforce convention. "What if there was an iTunes Music Store of online applications?"

Benioff continued the Apple comparison, saying the AppExchange and the Salesforce customer relationship management, or CRM, program will work together like iTunes and the iPod, giving customers an easy way to consume new business programs.

Salesforce has already built 35 free programs it plans to distribute through AppExchange and has gathered another 35 from various software partners, including applications for recruiting and human resources functions.

Distributing software through the AppExchange will be free for Salesforce customers. Others with no prior corporate relationship with the company must pay a "platform fee," Benioff said.