Microsoft fires up free tools for developers

The new WebsiteSpark programme gives small web design companies access to Microsoft tools and marketing support

Microsoft on Thursday launched its WebsiteSpark programme, intended to encourage web developers to use the company's tools and technologies.

Like the startup-focused BizSpark, and the student and educational DreamSpark, WebsiteSpark gives small web design companies 'no upfront cost' access to Microsoft tools and technologies for three years, with companies paying just $100 (£61.81) to participate at the end of that period.

"We're hoping to enrol agencies that have had little or no contact with Microsoft," said William Coleman, WebsiteSpark lead for the UK, when describing Microsoft's plans for the programme.

Unlike BizSpark, which is restricted to new businesses building on Microsoft technologies, WebsiteSpark has a more open approach, and any design house with fewer than 10 employees is eligible, Coleman noted. "There's a lot of trust in this," he said, noting that the only commitment participants need to make is to deploy one website on Windows technologies within the first six months.

Taken separately, the tools in the programme would cost a lot more than $100 over three years. Companies get access to Microsoft's web design and development tools, with three licences of Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, two of Microsoft Expression Web 3 and one of Microsoft Expression Studio 3.

The package also includes four production usage processor licences for Windows Web Server 2008 or R2 and for Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Web Edition (with three additional licences for internal testing), along with a third-party website control panel. There's also hosting support, with six hosting partners in the UK at launch.

In addition to the tools, the programme gives developers access to Microsoft's marketing resources in the shape of access to its partner network and a new WebsiteSpark marketplace service. "We're also working on localised lead-generation tools and services," Coleman said.

"We're aiming to foster a community among members," he said, adding that he expects there to be ways for WebsiteSpark members to work together.

Developer relations has always been important to Microsoft, but it has not had great success in enlisting web designers and developers. Its early tools were complex and failed to completely support web standards, but a recent push to compete with Adobe has produced the well-regarded Expression family of design tools and the Mix series of design conferences.

Part of this process has been the development of its Web Platform installer, which simplifies adding a mix of open and Microsoft tools to a website, as well as adding developer and design tools to the desktop. A new version, Web Platform Installer 2.0, which is being launched alongside WebsiteSpark, includes media streaming tools and cloud-computing services.