Microsoft has dipped another toe into the waters of open source development, with the soft-launch of a community-orientated code repository site called Codeplex.

The site, modelled along the lines of repositories such as SourceForge, is aimed at both open and "shared source" developers, letting them host and manage projects. It was written in C# using .Net 2.0 with Team Foundation Server on the back end.

The site is currently in beta-test mode, with a full launch planned for this summer. So far it hosts several of Microsoft's shared-source projects, such as "Turtle" - an interface for the Microsoft Team Foundation Server source code control system, and the Atlas Control Toolkit - a collection of pre-coded components for Microsoft's Atlas development framework.

The site explicitly states that developers are free to use open-source licences, though Microsoft said developers will be "encouraged" to use "the new Shared Source licences."

Other projects hosted on CodePlex include a Commerce Starter Kit based on ASP.NET 2.0; IronPython, an implementation of Python for .Net; Managed Stack Explorer and MSBee.

Features include release management, work item tracking, source code dissemination, wiki-based communications, project forums and news feed aggregation.

Some of the first developers to visit the site, launched last week, took some time to adjust to Microsoft's idea of "community-based development". For instance, many assumed Microsoft would release the source code for CodePlex in some form, a practice common on SourceForge and similar sites.

"Okay, so the idea is to share project sources, so when is the CodePlex source going to be available? Seems like an obvious dog-fooding to let us help you grow the system," wrote one visitor on a site forum.

But it wasn't to be. Microsoft said it has no plans to release any CodePlex code. "We're planning to fully support and maintain it at Microsoft, and the nature of the site requires coordination with the internal operations and hosting teams," the company explained. "The software is designed to run in the Microsoft data centre, so it isn't something that could realistically be hosted in another environment."

Microsoft has come under increasing pressure to reach some accommodation with the open-source world, to which, however, it remains ideologically at odds. The situation has led the company to take a stand often on both sides of the issue.

The company has taken pains to publicise the access it grants to its source code under its "shared source" programme, and has pointed out that it actively helps develop fully open source applications such as FlexWiki, Windows Installer XML and Windows Template Library on SourceForge. At the same time, the company continues to publicly criticise open source in general, and the popular GNU General Public License (GPL) in particular.

In a BBC documentary called "The Code Breakers", currently airing on BBC World, Jonathan Murray, the vice president and chief technology officer of Microsoft Europe, made it clear that software could either be "community-based", like open source, or it could have "reliability and dependability", like "commercial software" - but couldn't be both.