Microsoft offers development tools to students for free

University and high school students can use Visual Studio, Design Studio in DreamSpark program

Microsoft unveiled a new program that will offer as many as 1 billion high school and university students free access to its development and design tools.

The DreamSpark program is now available to 35 million university students in the US, China, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK, Microsoft said. The company then plans to expand the offer to high school students worldwide in the coming months. Once the full program is in place, the number of potential users could approach 1 billion students, Microsoft said.

"I've always believed in getting developers at as young an age as possible," Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said in a video interview on Channel 8, a Microsoft site focused on student developers. "These are the tools that people can build a career around or they can just build fun software for themselves. The basics of understanding how good architecture works, the data structures ... those have been the same for the last 30 years. Fundamentally, the skills of design, of knowing what good code looks like -- that is going to be valuable for at least the next three decades."

DreamSpark is available to students whose studies include technology, design, math science and engineering.

As part of the program, students can access Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition, Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition and XNA Game Studio 2.0, Microsoft said. The students are also eligible for a free 12-month academic membership to the XNA Creators Club.

The program will also encompass Microsoft's Expression Studio design tools, including Expression Web, Expression Blend, Expression Design and Expression Media. Students also can access SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition and Windows Server Standard Edition for free as part of the program.

"The opportunity, as a student, to use the same professional tools that I can expect to use after I graduate gives me a real head start in my career," said Nathan Murith, a computer science student at the University of Geneva in Switzerland who tested the service, in a statement. "I'm already getting more out of my studies, applying my learning to try out new ideas, and gaining new insights into careers in software design and development."

In the next six months, Microsoft plans to expand DreamSpark to university students in Australia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Japan, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, and more countries in the Americas, Asia and Europe. The program will be extended to high school students by the third quarter of 2008, Microsoft said.

The approximate value of the deal for Australian students is $5,000. When broken down, pricing for the products are: Windows Standard Server $909; SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition $84; Visual Studio 05 and Visual Studio 08 $1387 each, Expression Studio $1040; and XNA Creators Club US$99 (approx AU $107).

Microsoft is working with academic institutions, governments and student organizations around the world, such as the International Student Identity Card Association, to ensure the necessary local student identity-verification technology infrastructure exists to provide access to DreamSpark, the company added.

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