Students: On your marks for the Imagine Cup

Microsoft's competition to find the best student software designers around the world is now open, with $170,000 in prize money up for grabs

The call has gone out for any student programmers who fancy their chances of winning one of a number of prizes in the fifth annual Imagine Cup, which has a prize fund of $170,000. But be warned, your only chance of stepping off with a top prize is through co-operation and teamwork, as the Imagine Cup is strictly for team players.

A Microsoft competition, the Imagine Cup is sponsored by in the UK by Capgemini, BT and HP. It is an international student competition for, in Microsoft's words, "young technologists around the globe to explore their creativity by using technology to solve real-world problems".

Last year over 65,000 students from 100 countries participated — leading the competition to be dubbed the "software development Olympics".

The most high-profile category of The Imagine Cup is the Software Design Challenge. Others include Embedded Development, Web Development, the Programming Battle, the IT Challenge, Algorithm Challenge and, in the Digital Arts Category, Short Film, Digital Photography and Interface Design.

This year's theme for the Software Design Challenge is "imagine a world where technology enables a better education for all". The judges will be looking for software developers to use their imaginations, and Microsoft's tools and technology, to create usable and innovative software applications based on this theme. You can get full details on the competition and some tips from last year's finalists at the Imagine Cup website.

Teams must contain between two and four students, and will compete with the support of an academic mentor to create their solution. Entrants have just a few months to get their work together, as the deadline for first round submissions is 28 February 2007. Contestants must submit sample code from the application they develop, along with a document explaining their idea.

Those who make it to the second stage will have to submit a graphical representation of their solution. Each shortlisted team will be given two opportunities to deliver a detailed presentation to a panel of judges, with the top three teams then selected to present to the panel and a guest audience.

The winning team will go on to represent the UK on the international stage in the global final as part of an all-expenses paid trip to Seoul, in South Korea.

Prizes for UK winners of the Software Design Challenge will be a Microsoft Zune for third place, an Xbox 360 and Microsoft Suite of Games for second place and the overall winners of the Software Design competition will win a Project Development package, a HP Compaq nc2400 business laptop and the trip to the worldwide finals in Korea. Once in Korea they'll be competing for $25,000, $15,000 and $10,000 respectively for the top three places.

"The Imagine Cup has been running for five years now, and for software developers it's a competition of Olympic proportions," said Andrew Sithers, Academic Lead at Microsoft UK. "This year's theme is one that the students can relate to better than anyone. These are the people who have daily experience of our education system. This insight is invaluable and I'm sure will produce some incredibly creative approaches to the problem."

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