The guesses (by me and others) look like they were on target. The "Orchard Project," which is getting its debut on November 11 at Tech Ed Europe is, indeed, the successor to the Microsoft Oxite content-management system (CMS).
Microsoft made available the first the open-source Oxite CMS bits at the end of 2008. Like Oxite, Orchard will be a free, open-source CMS platform -- plus a set of shared components for building ASP.Net applications and extensions. The Orchard code is licensed under an OSI-approved New BSD license.
From the Orchard page on the Microsoft CodePlex code-repository site:
"(T)his core (Orchard) team will use their experience working with ASP.NET and Oxite to deliver a fundamentally new architecture that is the Orchard CMS. We have deliberately chosen to start development, with the guidance and contribution from the community. Over time we expect this project to become a viable successor to Oxite v1 and we know that providing a migration path for users of that existing application will be a high priority."
The Orchard team includes various ASP.Net developers; two of the principal developers of Oxite, Erik Porter and Nathan Heskew; and Louis DeJardin, the creator of the SparkViewEngine for Model View Controller (MVC).
Despite its origins and team, Microsoft officials are claiming that Orchard is "not a Microsoft project," according to the Orchard Web page. From the CodePlex page:
"Some of the initial (Orchard) source code and specs are available for review and comment but there is no downloadable release at this time. We encourage interested developers to check out the source code on this site and get involved with the project in these early stages."
There is no public timetable (so far) for when a test build of Orchard will be out or when a final version will be released.
(Thanks to @kellabyte for the Orchard pointer, via Twitter.)
Update: As one reader (thanks, @karlseguin) noted, Oxite was anything but a big hit with developers, including many of those in Microsoft's own .Net community. There have been many complaints about Oxite, from the development process, to the scope of the project, to the quality of the code and the way Microsoft explained the concept/product. Perhaps that's one reason why Microsoft is starting over with a new codename and claiming this is not a Microsoft project...