Microsoft offers startups software and cloud services for (almost) free

Summary:Via its new "BizSpark" program announced November 5, Microsoft is offering startups a variety of Microsoft products and technologies for free. Microsoft unveiled the program on the first day of the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco.

Via its new "BizSpark" program announced November 5, Microsoft is offering startups a variety of Microsoft products and technologies for free.

Microsoft unveiled the program on the first day of the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco.

Dan'l Lewin, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Strategic and Emerging Business Development, emphasized that BizSpark is a global program that is designed to "remove barriers, including general acessability, as well as costs," for startups setting up infrastructure to run their businesses.

(The "G" word -- Google -- isn't mentioned in any of Microsoft's BizSpark literature or information. But I'd guess another goal of the program is to head off inroads that Google may be making with its hosted apps/services among the cash-strapped startups in its Valley backyard.)

Participants will get access to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscriptions, Visual Studio tools, Windows, SQL Server, SharePoint Server, Exchange Server, System Center  and more. (The full list of products and services offered to BizSparkers is in the Program Guide.) They'll also get technical support and marketing/mentoring support, he said.

Microsoft isn't requiring participating startups to sign up to use the beta versions of its newly announced Azure cloud services, Live Mesh/Mesh Framework and/or its growing family of Microsoft-hosted services (Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Communications Server Online), but it is encouraging participants to consider using these fledgling services. It also plans to offer participants the choice of going with a number of preselected third-party hosting partners if they'd rather use hosted services that aren't managed by Microsoft.

(Microsoft is just starting to offer testers a chance to check out Azure via a controlled Community Technology Preview program. The final release of Azure is expected in the second half of 2009. Microsoft's hosted Online services are currently in beta, but according to one report, slated to go final in the spring of 2009.)

In order to participate in BizSpark, starups must be private companies that have been in busiess less than three years with annual revenues of less than $1 million (or less for a handful of other pre-designated countries). Microsoft is working with a couple of hundred "network partners" -- angel investors, government agencies and other business organizations -- who will nominate participants.

Participants will be required to pay a $100 program feet once they "graduate" from the program or at the end of three years, whichever comes first. Once participants end their BizSpark program participation, they will need to begin paying for the Microsoft software and services they've opted to use and to renegotiate any hosting arrangements they've selected.

"Current economic times suggest that this is a great time to do this (launch BizSpark)," said Lewin, "although we've been working on it for a long time."

BizSpark is part of Microsoft's larger vision to attract more developers from an early age and get them interested in Microsoft technologies, said Walid Abu-Habda, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft's Developer & Platform Evangelism Group. The ultimate goal is to extend DreamSpark (Microsoft's equivalent to BizSpark aimed at students) down to high-school students. That way, Microsoft will be seeding its technologies among developers across the spectrum from high-school, to college, to start-ups.

The fine print on BizSpark can be found in the BizSpark Program Guide. Anyone see any gotchas? Or does this look like something startups might find enticing?

Update: If you're in the New York City area, you can get more info and network with some local startups at the BizSpark Ignition New York event on November 11.

Topics: Microsoft, Collaboration, Enterprise Software


Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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