Google has launched a site designed to deepen the company's interactions with external software developers by providing Google source code for free, along with discussion forums.

The site, called Google Code, has been in development for about six months and from a modest start, is expected to grow in scope.

"We have derived a great amount of software from the open source community, so we felt it would be appropriate for us to interact more closely with those developers than we have done to date," said Chris DiBona, Google's open source program manager.

"Enough people at Google came from the open source community that it's sort of built into us that we want to do this. It's one of the reasons I was hired," said DiBona, who joined Google about eight months ago.

The site is aimed at providing the open source community with software tools developed and used internally by Google, contributing code that external developers might find useful, DiBona said. An added bonus for Google would be to get feedback from developers on ways to improve the code it posts on the site, he said.

While Google Code contains links to information on Google's open APIs, the site's purpose isn't to get external developers to write applications that extend Google functionality, he said.

"These aren't applications per se. They aren't environments to develop in. These aren't interfaces to use Google search," DiBona said. "These are (tools) for creating software. This is about releasing code to help people develop."

Google has a separate site devoted to its APIs.

An open source community leader praised Google's effort. "This looks great. It's great news. I'm not surprised. Google has always been a class act and it has had close ties to the open source community," said Eric Raymond, president emeritus and founder of the Open Source Initiative.

Google's decision to start the project modestly and allow the programme to expand is the right approach, Raymond said. "In general, when you're dealing with the open source community the best thing is to speak softly and deliver a lot of code: underpromise and overperform. They're doing the right thing here."