Microsoft aims to win student developers' hearts with free dev tools

Microsoft aims to win student developers' hearts with free dev tools

Summary: Microsoft is trying a new tactic to get more college and high-school students interested in developing for the Windows platform: It's going to give them the development tools for free. Microsoft's move is as defensive -- if not more so -- than it is generous, however.


Microsoft is trying a new tactic to get more students interested in developing for the Windows platform: It's going to give them the development tools for free.

During a talk entitled "On Software, Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Giving Back" at Stanford University on February 19, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is set to unveil the Microsoft "DreamSpark" program. Via this program, Microsoft will make Visual Studio Professional Edition (both the 2005 and 2008 variants); Expression Studio, its family of design tools; SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition; and Windows Server, Standard Edition, among other tools, available to college students -- and eventually high-school students, as well -- for free.

According to Microsoft, 35 million college students in Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S. qualify for the program immediatly. Microsoft will extend it to high school students throughout the coming year. Company officials said the program potentially could reach up to 1 billion students worldwide.

(In case you were wondering how Microsoft will make sure only students will get access to the free tools, Microsoft plans to verify individuals' student status by using "various reputable student databases to confirm student identities," a Microsoft spokeswoman said. Students will choose the identity provider that maintains the database (i.e. their school, organization, or other academic-based group) that will confirm their student status, she explained.)

All this sounds impressive and quite generous, on Microsoft's part. However, the reality is that many university students already have access to Microsoft's tools for free via their unversities. And Java and open-source development tools like PHP already have a strong following among students -- making Microsoft's new program look more like a defensive move than an entirely philanthropic one.

Microsoft's new tool give-away is "a positive development but not completely unprecedented," said Charles King Principal Analyst, with Pund-IT, Inc., based in Hayward, Calif. "Other vendors provide colleges/universities a variety of free or subsidized support programs, but what's interesting with Microsoft's effort is that they're putting the tools directly in students' hands."

While "Microsoft already makes (free) 'Express' versions of Visual Studio available for casual users, making the Professional editions available will give more advanced students the opportunity to explore these tools further, and better prepare them for careers as developers because they will have had access to the same tools that today's companies are using," said Mark Frydenberg, Senior Lecturer and Software Specialist in the Computer Information Systems Department at Bentley College.

Microsoft has a number of student outreach programs. But it has no choice but to do more to get the next generation of tech users and developers on its side. Macs already are the dominant computing platform at many a college these days. Microsoft needs new ways to ensure that Windows, Visual Studio and SQL Server aren't relegated to little more than the history books....

Topics: Software Development, CXO, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Actually, it is pretty generous...

    The program is called MSDN Academic Alliance. Students and instructors can download (or have CDs shipped for a nominal price) the programs and get full retail keys. It's not trial ware, and it doesn't expire when you leave school. Here's the list of program available from my school's website.

    Server 2003 STandard with SP1
    Server 2003 Standard R2 with SP2
    Server 2003 Enterprise with SP1
    Server 2003 R2 Enterprise wiwth SP2
    XP Pro SP2
    Vista Business
    SQL Server 2005 Standard
    SP2 for SQL Server 2005
    SQL Server 200 Standard
    SQL Server 2000 Enterprise
    SP4 for SQL Server 2000
    Exchange Server 2003 Enterprise
    Exchange Server 2003 Standard
    Exchannge Server 2007
    Sharepont Server 3.0
    Office Sharepoint Server 2007
    Systems Management Server 2003 with SP1
    SMS 2003 SP3 Upgrade
    SMS Server 2003 R2
    Visio Pro 2007
    Project Pro 2007
    Expression Studio
    Access 2007
    Frontpage 2003
    office Groove 2007
    Office OneNote 2007
    Virtual PC 2007
    Virtual Server 2005 Standard
    Virtual Server 2005 Enterprise
    Virtual Server 2005 R2 - Enterprise

    Not too shabby.
    • generous

      Yes, that is a generous list. My point was that Microsoft already offers these things for free to many college students; the new DreamSpark program announced today doesn't seem to add a whole lot to what's already available. The question is how many are availing themselves of this software...
      Mary Jo Foley
      • Been happening for some time. They basically charge for media and shipping

        Been happening for some time. They let you have everything from Windows XP, Vista, server, development tools for the cost of the shipping and media.

        It sounds generous but it's a very effective investment. Students who are hooked on this technology become huge proponents of the Microsoft ecology. It's also much easier for students to get hooked to this since it's friendlier to use and the development tools from Microsoft are very good.
      • hopefully

        not a lot, already run into far too many "this site requires IEx or above" messages.

        That might be a good thing though, I waste lot of time on the web looking for information I already have on one of the bookshelves.

      • College != High School

        Didn't the article say that they had plans of offering them to high school students too?

        I didn't get Office for free from my school, I got a discount on it (it was already on their machines, but I couldn't take the university's computer home with me). There's a big difference between "discounted" and "free" and high school wasn't included at all.

        Seems very generous.
      • Drug dealers offer free samples to new customers

    • Does full retail = production use?

      Didn't MS give away full versions of Visual Studio just a couple of years ago. I remember an offer to download it being good until Nov of 2005 or 06 maybe. I don't think this was the express editions but I could be wrong. This was my last dealing with MS technology at home when the downloads took forever. Once I saw the popularity of Eclipse in the work world it strengthened my already strong interested in Java and was a perfect match for my LAMP work.

      The thing is though that a student can get LAMP, Java, Eclipse, Linux and a whole host of other tools and both prepare to enter the corporate world AND build their own releasable software at home for free. Its hard for MS to make an attractive offer if the students will have license restrictions on their free tools. As it is they won't be able to benefit from updates and they only have licenses for one copy of everything. I understand they are a business but I think pay to play is going to hurt them with the individual developer, startups, and some contractors. They have a foot on the inside of larger businesses that will shell out for licenses.
      • You realise that makes no sense...

        [i]This was my last dealing with MS technology at home when the downloads took forever.[/i]

        So... the speed of download, which might not even be Microsoft's fault, determines the quality of MS's products?

        [i]The thing is though that a student can get LAMP, Java, Eclipse, Linux and a whole host of other tools and both prepare to enter the corporate world AND build their own releasable software at home for free.[/i]

        Well, maybe. First off since LAMP is Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP, the fact that you were already doing LAMP related work (you say that in the sentence before this quote), then what you just said is: since Microsoft doesn't do LAMP, getting LAMP from other sources make my life easier. Well, dur.

        On the other hand, if you restate it as 'Host OS, Web Server, SQL DB, Scripting Language', then your argument falls apart. Most Windows comes with IIS of some sort that can support ASP.NET. SQL Server Express and Visual Studio 2008 Express Web Designer Edition is free. You can get PHP for .Net, but you can also just NOT use a scripting language and use C#, which is more powerful than PHP and more relevent than Java in the corporate world.

        So really, in the end, your argument comes down to "Linux is free and Windows isn't." Personally, I don't mind paying for something if it's more useful, and outside of web design, I've not seen any real compelling argument that Linux is a better productivity platform, or even a better platform for the development of productivity apps.

        And since the vast majority of development outside of web related apps (and even a large portion of those) are done for Windows or on Windows, well... I'd say your arguments are at best, questionable.
        • I guess you all do not read licenses

          Before that I was not knocking MS and especially on the download. It simply took forever, I paused it and never went back to it and it turned out to be my last time working with MS technologies at home.

          Now down to business.

          [i]Most Windows comes with IIS[/i]

          But NO version of Widows comes free. And you are not going to host a real site using anything short of Windows Server anyway. My point was that a student can develop using the exact same platform thats found in production environments AND (pay attention here) deploy that entire environment for their own commercial use without any license restrictions. In additions IDE's like NetBeans and Eclipse are full featured while the Express Editions are not. I have used SQL Server 2005 Express and it is not full featured. I'm simply pointing out that you are talking about restricted pieces of software vs full featured applications.

          [i]You can get PHP for .Net, but you can also just NOT use a scripting language and use C#, which is more powerful than PHP and more relevent than Java in the corporate world[/i]

          You wasted key strokes here. I have been developing web apps for 10 years in everything from Perl to .Net. Up until recently I was using ASP.Net on the job for 2 years. I have shown .Net developers how they could code circles around themselves using PHP over .NET but it takes discipline. With a weak typed highly dynamic languages you can do things with far less code. Don't bother trying to argue against that because MS had to incorporate dynamic typed variables in order to make LINQ work. They are slowly moving to where languages like Python PHP Ruby etc have been for years. This is not saying C# is not good, but for the common patterns found in web based projects you simply can't beat the "P" languages. C# and Java show their strength in much larger projects where type checking is needed because of the shear amount of code to keep up with. As for C# being more relevant than Java I don't know where you have been but when I put my resume out I get a good mixture of the 2. Corporations did not scrap all the Java code for C# in their IT shop and Java is still the #1 language on Tiobe.

          Some of you folk kill me with these MS defense posts. I was not aiming to bash MS. I was simply comparing their offer to whats available for free. I didn't leave MS alone because of hate or zealotry but because when I was in college I didn't have access to MS technologies outside of labs and the access I did have was restricted by licenses. I began learning things using free technologies and simply continued down that path. So you can save the pro-MS rhetoric for someone else.
      • And VSExpress is free for commercial app development too.

        Oh, and the free VSExpress products allows for commercial distribution of products made with them. Even businesses may use them if they wish. No licensing fees.
      • ...and cross platform

        Is there a university that doesn't provide MS tools already for free download?

        You can sure go far with the open tools for obvious reason so people can choose freely. The word on the street is there's more opportunity to learn using open tools (they don't turn on you after you graduate!).

    • That is AWESOME!

      Definitely an incentive to further a degree; to get tools that will be legal after one's studying is complete...
    • Pretty generous

      of them to still keep trying the old failing business ways.

      The world has wisened up to this siht Microsoft, but we know you're only a money company so you'll never get it.

      Ah well.
  • Student usage doesn't always translate...

    to real world usage. Macs have always been proof of that. In 20 years of professional IT work, I've seen a handful in business environments, and always they were being used for traditional desktop publishing kind of work. It definitely doesn't hurt putting tools in the hands of students, but doing so doesn't guarantee anything.
    • Internships

      We are in somewhat of a need for new blood in the industry and one way to get that is Internships. A recent experience had an Intern lobbying for Office 2008 with her mentor, the head of a small IT government shop. She found the desire to work in the old Microsoft Office product perplexing. So did I until researching the matter.

      It turns out that Java and open-source have provided free software addins/ packages that are used to glue older flavors of Microsoft Office together. For example, in Java you can generate advanced spread sheets that work in the older flavor of Excel.

      The resistance to change to new Microsoft products I now take as directly related the the availability of such Java and open source glue. Students can get away with stating the obvious

      It is obvious that IT managers are reluctant to move forward, to change with the times, go with the flow, whatever you want to call it. Our hope is in these student developers, because most of the IT management are decades from retirement. On the students, bless them, on Bill - he really needs to be less visible and get out of the way.
  • Of course it will Help

    Just like advertisers target children to establish brand loyalty, this will help Microsoft continue as an entity. They should have done this years ago...Cisco did this many years ago with their Cisco Networking Academy in high schools and colleges. They now have a host of graduates, who are Cisco branded, out in the workforce.
  • Microsoft has expanded their platform workgroup information ; ( WMLA) :

    As of yesterdays visit into Msdn; I am seeing extention 'Handputs' and student participation that was amping to resolve the complexities of todays VMWorld with Vista. Good luck people, make one into Avatar for this session and you may find a "Gold Certificate" in your hard drive. Oh by the way I found my Volume Control on the far right of my task bar.
    • Errr.. say what?

      I have NO idea what this means. A "Gold Certificate"? And why is where your volume control relevent to anything?
  • Macs dominant? I think not...

    To say that Macs are the dominant platform at many a university is probably a pretty inaccurate statement. I agree that Apple probably has a higher market-share of colleges and universities than the rest of the world, but Windows-based PCs still are the most prevalent platform at schools and elsewhere. That's why most university IT services still offer far more for traditional PC users than those using a Mac. Maybe you should consider taking elementary statistics and calculating some percentages and probabilities before making the assertion you did in your article.
    • I agree...

      just because some bone head quotes Dartmouth and Princeton...OK let's look at those universities...vs. Basic (and still good) public colleges and universities. That was a stupid quote.