Microsoft is dipping its toes a little further in the waters of Open Source a- although it's not going so far as to throw the code of a commercial application open. The company has posted the code of a little-known collaboration application to open-source development site SourceForge.

Microsoft is sharing the source of FlexWiki, a program for creating websites called wikis that allow users to add and edit content. It is Microsoft's third open-source code contribution, but the first time the company is sharing code for an actual application, said Jason Matusow, director of Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative.

"We want to make sure that we continue to push our spectrum in terms of how far we go with different types of technologies and different types of licensing choices, and understand the benefits," he said.

In April Microsoft released on SourceForge a toolset called WiX for building Windows installation packages from XML (Extensible Markup Language) code. A month later the company released its Windows Template Library (WTL) technology, also on SourceForge.

Like WiX and WTL, FlexWiki is somewhat obscure Microsoft technology and not a part of commercial Microsoft products. FlexWiki was created by Microsoft employee David Ornstein as part of a project to see if wikis could help improve the software development process at Microsoft.

While Microsoft, facing increased competition from open-source products, has shunned open source when it comes to its commercial products, the company is making available select tools under open-source licences as a way to reach out to the community of open-source developers.

"Thirty percent of the SourceForge development projects are Windows-based projects. There is a significant community of folks there who are looking at Windows-based technologies, and we want to make sure that we're putting compelling technologies up there to complement what they are doing," Matusow said.

Microsoft uses FlexWiki on projects such as "Channel 9," a website for developers. Several groups inside the company have also used it for collaboration purposes, Matusow said. The software and its source code were available before on Microsoft's GotDotNet Web site, but not under a bonafide open source license, he said.

Microsoft's projects are among the most popular projects on SourceForge, said Patrick McGovern, director of SourceForge.net.

"These three projects are a very good start," he said. "Microsoft is trying to build a vibrant, collaborative community to actually prove the products. I haven't seen a lot of negativity. ...These are three projects that they wanted to test the open source waters with, and I think it has been a success."