Microsoft Aims to Bolster Academia Ties

Redmond's initiative includes new software, Shared Source licenses to source code, and research grants.

Microsoft Corp. Thursday announced a series of initiatives aimed at strengthening its relationship with the academic community, including new versions of its software, Shared Source licenses to source code, and research grants.

Microsoft announced a new version of its flagship development platform targeted at the academic world—Visual Studio .Net 2003 Academic Edition—which the company will deliver through its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Academic Alliance program.

Essentially, with the battle for developers hearts and minds becoming increasingly competitive, Microsoft is putting more emphasis on wooing young developers while they are still in colleges and universities.

"This partnership we have with academia is a two-way street," said Morris Sim, director of the academic developer group at Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is offering a new component of the academic edition of Visual Studio called the Assignment Manager, which provides a mechanism for instructors to assign work to students and students to submit assignments back to instructors for grading. The instructors can also track student progress and issue grades via the system, Sim said.

Microsoft is making the source code for the Assignment Manager available through its Shared Source Initiative. Starting this summer, Microsoft will allow professors and students to use the source code for the Assignment Manager Server, the Assignment Manager Faculty Client and the Assignment Manager Student Client for building both commercial and non-commercial applications, including non-Windows-based applications, the company said.

Jason Matusow, manager of the Shared Source Initiative at Microsoft, said if students create marketable applications using the Assignment Manager source code, "they can take that code and commercialize it." Students can use, modify and redistribute the Microsoft source code under the academic license, the company said.

Microsoft also announced 25 recipients of the 2003 Microsoft Research (MSR) University Relations Innovation Excellence research grants. The company awarded grants worth $3.5 million spread across the 25 projects.

Doug Leland, director of university relations for Microsoft Research, said the company looked at innovation in the areas of mobile and wireless technology, trustworthy computing, distributed computing and learning technologies when awarding the grants.

One such grant went to the Georgia Institute of Technology, which has a project around mobile computing resources and enhancing the role devices play in non-mobile situations, Leland said.

Another grant went to Rice University for its Learning Science and Technology Repository, which is a Web-based database of top projects for learning sciences and technology, the company said.

Through the grants, Microsoft hopes to "foster innovation and collaboration in the computer research field," Leland said. "Empowerment and collaboration are key drivers in sparking innovation." Leland said the grants provide researchers with "all the tools, technology and money to advance their projects."

More information on the grants and recipients can be found here.

The MSDN Academic Alliance program is available to computer science departments for an annual subscription rate of $799 and gives students access to all of Microsofts developer tools and enterprise products. More than 3 million students and faculty are in the program, Microsoft said.