Moments ago Microsoft launched WebsiteSpark, a new program to provide web developers and designers free copies of Microsoft development tools, applications and server licenses for a period of three years. The program is the third and latest launch as part of the ‘spark’ series of outreach and support programs designed to engage communities with new Microsoft products. The initial programs to launch were BizSpark, for startups, and DreamSpark, for students.
The WebsiteSpark program announced today provides eligible individuals or organizations with 3-year licenses of Visual Studio 2008, Expression Studio, Expression Web (also part of studio), Windows Web Server, SQL Server and DotNetPanel. To be eligible, an organization or individual developer must be in the business of building web applications or websites for others (ie. clients) and also have no more than 10 employees.
I recall as a young developer constantly bitching about the cost of development tools, which was a real barrier of entry. Microsoft bundled QBASIC with DOS, which spawned a whole generation of developers, but for those who were looking to learn further there was a real commercial barrier because of the price of good compilers and tools. Most of us ended up ripping these tools off by downloading them – which meant that we all became familiar with certain tools (like the old VC++) and then ended up getting real jobs where we would use them. Microsoft have obviously caught on and have realized that they need to lower the barrier for some parts of the market (as with academic discounts) in order to bring Microsoft tools, and in-turn platforms/servers (and services!), into development shops and to developers.
There is a broader motive here – Microsoft want to eventually sell you on the entire platform. But who cares, because frankly, their developer tools have long been the best available (queue flame war). I could never have imagined such programs coming out of Microsoft all that long ago, especially combined with support for more open source (PHP), supporting an open implementation of the entire .NET platform and executives like Scott Guthrie who are not only blogging, put publishing their email addresses so that anybody who has a problem signing up with the program can email him (it is firstname.lastname@example.org, btw).