It's been awhile since we've heard much from the homebrew crowd, in fact once everyone went to 'NoDo' and the door was shut on home-unlocked devices, the amount of side-loading software declined dramatically. That wasn't a terrible thing either, as Mango's "500 features" goes along way in "fixing" any complaints users may have with the OS.
Still, for those developers who either cannot afford the $99 or for those just starting out, there's an odd solution coming forth from the ChevronWP7 team. Evidently they are set to release a new unlocker, but this time with the blessings of Microsoft. It's called ChevronWP7 Labs. The catch? It won't be free this time:
"The service will require a small fee — currently via PayPal — to offset costs but we assure you it will be more affordable than the App Hub. Those who wish to write and immediately publish apps are recommended to sign up to the App Hub instead.
We’re excited to be making this service available to users with the support of the Windows Phone team."
Now, before we can pass judgement on this, we'd have to know how much we're talking here. That range can be from $1 to $98, we suppose and that's a large range. If we're talking $5-15 we can kind of look past it and almost think of it as a tip to the Team for their work; more than that and it starts looking like opportunism (and we'd be surprised Microsoft would be okay in losing that money).
For now though, we can at least be happy that an unofficial/official solution is coming to the platform, which may still allow a homebrew community to grow on the sides and allow devs of all ranges to play with the platform. Stay tuned...