Microsoft to give students free pro development tools

In a move to generate interest among high school and college students in technology, design, math, science, and engineering, Microsoft launched a new initiative yesterday, saying it would give away its key development software to students.

Calling the new initiative "Dreamspark," Microsoft will offer students full educational licenses for Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition, Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, Expression Studio, Windows Server Standard Edition, and SQL Server 2005. These are not the Express editions, which were already free, but the complete packages.

Students will also be able to utilize XNA Game Studio 2.0 (again, not just the Express version), plus a complementary 12-month academic membership in the XNA Creators Club. There, Microsoft hopes to foster the next generation of Xbox 360 game authors.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates officially launched the program during a speech at Stanford University.

College students worldwide will be given access to these applications within the next six months. High school students are expected to be added to the eligibility list in the third quarter of 2008. It's possible Microsoft will add more applications to Dreamspark in the future, depending on the popularity of the venture.

Students in qualified countries must log in with their Windows Live ID, and ensure they are able to get verified as a student, to qualify for downloads. To learn more about the program and see the criteria on how to qualify, users can visit Channel 8, Microsoft's official DreamSpark Web site based on its Channel 9 site for professional developers. The new Channel 8 will be an online resource for students who are interested in coding, featuring Microsoft developers providing video interviews, content, and other tips specifically geared toward students.

It's certainly a lot of fun being in an area where there is always innovation and breakthrough, especially with software, Gates said during a Channel 8 interview.

"It is our hope that the DreamSpark program will spark your creativity and help you harness software's transformative magic to turn your good ideas into reality, by equipping you with the tools you need to succeed and excel during your academic experience and skills you will need after graduation," reads a Microsoft corporate statement yesterday.

Many universities already have agreements with Microsoft in which students are able to receive Microsoft products for free or a discounted price, but typically students had to be members of their respective computer science or math departments. To ensure qualified students have access to the programs, Microsoft is working with university departments, governments and student organizations. Integrated directly into the service, students will be asked annually to verify their continued eligibility.

Even though the company is giving up a slice of revenue, the initiative increases the chances new technology will be written using Microsoft software as opposed to open source alternatives.

As the United States falls behind in the crucial science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, Microsoft's DreamSpark program may help renew interest in hiring American high school and university students. For example, increasing STEM research funding has become a political tool, with presidential candidates discussing how they will increase federal funding to help drive a new generation of science and technology research.

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