If you’ve been wanting to use Windows Azure but couldn’t because a particular open source virtual machine (VM) wasn’t available or you didn’t have the time to configure one, well you’re in luck. The newly released preview of VM Depot from Microsoft Open Technologies, Inc., (MS Open Tech) allows you to build, deploy and share your favorite Linux configuration, create custom open source stacks and work with others to build new architectures for the cloud that leverage the openness and flexibility of the Azure platform.

All images shared via this catalog are open for interaction where other users of VM Depot can leave comments, ratings, and even remix images to developers’ liking and share the results with other members of the community. Currently, on catalogs similar to VM Depot (such as Amazon Web Services), you must pay to publish all versions of your images. With VM Depot, publishing an image is free to encourage everyone to take full advantage of shared insights and experience, as well as encourage collaboration towards the best possible version of an image.

The shared community environment also means you can access this catalog to use basic image frameworks created by others so you can quickly continue building without starting from scratch. VM Depot was made possible with the support of a number of partners who have contributed images and packages for this preview launch including Alt Linux, Basho, Bitnami and Hupstream.

You can read the official announcement here and more information can be found at the Windows Azure Blog and Interoperability@Microsoft (this post has a great walk through).